My Favorite Destinations in Central Europe
Here are my favorite destinations in Central Europe:
Germany - Southern Germany in particular is my favorite spot in Europe mainly because I worked, lived, and went to school there. I learned the language, the people, and had a whole lot of fun in this great country.
I first visited a small town called Entringen, near Stuttgart, back in 1971. It had a total population of several hundred. Americans were a complete rarity here. I went for weeks throughout that summer without speaking any English.
I learned to live like a European, talk like a European, and drive like a European. My very first car I ever had, I bought for 700 DM ($200). It was a 1959 Volkswagen Beetle, with no gas gauge. It had a reserve tank switch just like an old motorcycle. I drove it all over southern Germany and parts of Switzerland.
I was in heaven.
I've returned many times. It's my favorite country in Central Europe. Every city in Baden-Württemberg and Bavaria are precious to me. Enjoy them as I do. I write about these places in the Romantic Road starting in Franconia (northern Bavaria) and the last chapters of my Eastern European adventures.
From beer to cathedrals to people who have invited me into their home more often than any other place in the world, I love this place. From castles (Neuschwanstein) that inspired Disney to create Disneyland, quaint villages, fantastic beer halls, lovely mountains, mighty rivers and a few wars that changed the world forever, Germany is as interesting as it gets. Germany dominates Central Europe.
Switzerland - Switzerland is my favorite mountain getaway. I was only 19 years old when I first visited it on my own.
During my many hikes through the Alps, I almost fell off of a mountain cliff or worse, dropped into a glacier crevasse. I was very inexperienced and stupid then. Now I stay on the hiking trails.
The hut-to-hut mountain hiking is a whole lot of fun. These huts are located a day's hike away from each other, throughout the mountains in Central Europe. They have bed, food, beer and the greatest views in the world. All you need to bring is your back pack with sturdy clothes, rain gear, good shoes (well broken in), and a little money.
For the less athletic, tour the country in wonderful Swiss trains and Postal Buses. There is plenty of ingenious Alpine engineering in form of funicular railways and gondola rides, which brings the startling beauty of the Swiss Alps up close in complete safety and comfort.
Add chocolates, cheese, and Swatch watches; strict neutrality, banks, and fiercely independent citizens; a little Heidi and her grandfather; multi-lingual magic (German, French, Italian, and Romanisch, the ancient language of Roman Solders); and a fantastic transportation system. You get easy access to a great country in Central Europe.
Here are some more great places to visit in Switzerland:
Lake Geneva, Switzerland - The lake Geneva region in Switzerland is one of the most famous travel destinations in Europe. And for good reasons! Learn more on this site, written by a local lake Geneva expert.
Austria - Austria is pure fun. From Mozart's birthplace and hill top castles to the Sounds of Music as well as the gemütlikeit of beer halls, Salzburg shines. From the chocolate shops and weinstübes to the Lipizzaner stallions and the angelic voice choir, Vienna satisfies one's royal urges. After all the Austrian used to rule most of Central Europe.
Lying in Central Europe, one can ski or hike, bicycle or boat down the Danube River. Austria has something for everyone. Sometimes more than you can ever expect.
I located a village in Northern Austria with the same last name as mine. I was very excited about this, seeking my ancestral roots. When I was a only nineteen years old, I bought an airline ticket to Central Europe, bought a 1959 Volkswagen and drove to the village of Eggerding, Austria. I located the city hall and walked in. I introduced myself to the Bürgermeister or mayor of the village.
He looks at me and my passport and laughs. It's like going to Chicago and introducing yourself to Mayor Daley as Mr. Chicago.
He knows of no one with my last name. He's very helpful though. He has telephone books for all the areas in Austria, Germany, and Switzerland. We look through them and find no one with my last name. It's very disappointing.
But some of the village store proprietors take pity on me and invite me to their homes that are located above their shops. They listen to my life story, we laugh, and we have a great time. I get the entire history of my new little village and have my fifteen minutes of glory as the Wunderkind (Wonder Child) from America.
Oh, well. It was still worth it to visit there.
Austria is fun.
Italy - Food, food, food. Life, life, living. Drink great wines, sing great songs, love deeply. And, well, you might be mistaken for being Italian, if you're not already one.
The first time I walked into a train in Italy, I look for an empty compartment. Before I could enter, I am approached by two blond Austrian girls from Central Europe, running down the train corridor. They were being pursued by two shorter, dark Italian males, with fire in their eyes.
The first girl, in German, asked me if they could join me in my cabin.
I laugh, and I said, "Yes, of course!"
They race into the compartment before me, and sit down in corner seat, wide-eyed and shaking.
I stare down their pursuers and make it clear that they were not welcome. They slink away like the vermin they are.
I join my two brand-new younger sisters. I close and lock cabin door behind me.
Before I could sit down and calm them down, there is a knock on cabin door. I open it and am greeted with the quintessential Italian mother, her husband, and several dark eyed children.
I open the door with a smile and let them in.
As I sit down, two of Italian kids jumped on my lap and proceed to a play with me, jabbering in Italian. I become uncle Dan in those few seconds as the mother proceeds to pull out sausage, cheese, salads and the best Italian bread I've ever tasted.
She feed us all in minutes, as her husband opens a huge bottle of homemade red wine and passes out cups with a giant belly laugh.
The laughter is contagious as we enjoyed our impromptu Italian fiesta. I never did find out the names of my brand-new little sisters, but it doesn't matter. We experience Italy in South Central Europe and all its tremendous fascination and inherent, yet 'tolerable' dangers.
To me, this story sums up Italy better than any guidebook. Enjoy in moderation.
Tourist Attractions in Italy, with holiday, travel and vacation information about towns, monuments, parks, flights, accommodation, sport & activities, hotels and restaurants, beaches and more.
Sicily - Located in southern Italy, Sicily is plainly Italy on steroids, especially the food. The food is unbelievable.
I spend my first night in Palermo, the capital of Sicily and home of the Mafia. I go out to pizzeria next to my hotel and eat the best pizza of my life. Handmade with just a tender crust, cheese and marinara sauce, its simplicity and great taste impresses me deeply.
I go back to the same pizzeria every night I'm in Palermo, ordering the same pizza. I get to know the family who owns it and they surprise me by last night with a full Italian meal just for me and themselves. We never spoke a word of English. It was all smiles and my terrible Italian.
I'm going back to Palermo as soon as I can.
Tunisia - Tunisia has the friendliest French-speaking Arabs in the world. It's also the place where the movies "Star Wars" and Monty Python's "Life of Brian" were filmed, with "The Gladiator."
It is also the midpoint of the Sahara Desert which stretches from Egypt to Morocco. It is the location of the biggest threat to ancient Rome, Carthage.
Tunisia is the home of the most mind bending, breathtaking vistas and adventures. It is also the destination of many budget minded French and German tourists from Central Europe.
I found it to be more than friendly, more that extraordinary and a whole lot of fun. Go there.
Sweden - Sweden is a wonderful country to visit, located in North Central Europe. It's huge, the size of California. It also has a large influence on the world as a whole. From protecting Jews during World War II to creating an independent United Nations with Dag Hammarskjold, from sheltering Vietnam draft dodgers to the creation of the Nobel Peace Prize Sweden helped lead the way to world peace.
Yet, it is the home of the Vikings, who brought fear and destruction to the world during the Middle Ages. It also helped the Nazis.
I had the privilege of working in Sweden for four months one summer in 2000. I toured Stockholm and the countryside throughout southern Sweden.
I visited incredible crystal makers like Orrefors and Kosta as well as the Viking ruins on the island of Gotland. I celebrated my find at a local pub in Visby, where I was lucky enough to meet the head brewer him at Gotland Brewery.
I got a private tour of both the brewery and the town. His most famous beer is called Klosteröl, or "Monk oil." This gives you a pretty good introduction to Swedish humor, which can be very funny, yet critical at times.
Believe me, the girls at even the McDonald hamburger restaurants in Sweden were far prettier than most of the bikini beach bunnies at any resort in Central Europe.
This is yet another reason why you should visit Sweden.
Denmark - Denmark has the most outgoing people of Scandinavia. Friendly in the extreme, the Danish are ready to celebrate at a moment's notice. This can be seen at Tivoli, the world's first amusement park create in 1843.
I was given a personal tour of Tivoli by my Danish friend Vivi and her two young, adopted daughters, ages six and seven. Vivi suffered from motion sickness so she couldn't go on the roller coasters that her daughters loved so much. They were too young to go by themselves, so that's how I got commandeered.
Uncle Dan, me, loves to ride roller coasters. So I took them both on all the roller coaster rides in the park. The best thing about Tivoli was that the lines were short. We went on ride after ride until I began to get very queasy. Was I suffering from motion sickness, that until then I never experienced? Then I realized that I've been riding roller coasters for four straight hours, about 20 rides all together. No wander I was feeling a little sick. I wasn't suffering from motion sickness; I was suffering from having my body pounded into submission by hundreds shakes and bumps.
I'll tell you, we all slept soundly that night!
Denmark once ruled all of Sweden and Norway until they each gained their independence. This helps explain why the Swedes, Norwegians, and Danes don't always get along. Yet the Danes take pride in their tolerance, as shown in the "Jante Law" that make it illegal to say they're better than anyone else.
These are great people, and Denmark is a great country.
Netherlands - The Netherlands was the first foreign land I ever visited my life. What a gem! Both friendly and different, it became an eye-opening adventure. The Dutch were both kind and generous in teaching me how to deal with foreign cultures.
From its tiny canals, to its efficient tram system, to its tolerance of those who are different, to its red light district, to its art museums, everything in Amsterdam, Holland's capital is so amazing.
What a great place to start a trip in Central Europe.
Belgium - Belgium is the hidden gem of Europe. I have traveled through here because it was the easiest way to get to Germany from England. The specialty beers of Belgium are famous for their exotic ways. From strawberry brews to triple strong tracks, Trappist Monk beers are legendary.
Belgium delicacies like chocolates and Belgian waffles are not to be missed.
The small towns like Bruges and Ghent redefine what is quaint and beautiful in Central Europe.
One time in the 1970's, when I was hitchhiking to the ferry at Oostende to return to England, when a driver insisted that I get a tour of his beautiful city of Ghent. We toured the medieval towers and the downtown district.
He was so please with my delight in all things Ghent; he took me to the ferry himself just in time for an earlier sailing.
Things hadn't changed much when I returned a few years ago. The locals are delighted that I'm interested in their towns, their history, and culture. See you there!
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