By Christine Potter
Anyone who dreams of visiting Europe, whether for the first time or to see something they missed before, need wait no longer. Our strong Canadian dollar makes it the best time in years to cross the pond. With so many special places, however, the most difficult choice will be which country (or countries) to visit. To help you choose, we look at three not-so-obvious themes – Literary Places, Seafaring Cities and Pilgrimage Sites – as bases for interesting, and a bit off the beaten path itineraries. Read on.
By The Book
From Jane Austen to Hans Christian Andersen, readers love to explore literary Europe. Here are some favourite places:
Brenda AnneriBosnia & Herzegovina: The Ottoman town of Travnik in Central Bosnia was once known as the European Istanbul for its ancient mosque and fortress. Near the mountain ski resort of Vlasic, it’s famous for native son and 1961 Nobel Prize winner (Literature) Ivo Andric. His Bosnian Trilogy is about the area under Ottoman rule. www.tourism.ba
Denmark: In April, 1805 Denmark’s famous native son Hans Christian Andersen was born in Odense, the country’s third largest town and one of its oldest. Echoing his fairytales, Andersen’s father was a poor shoemaker who lived with his family in one tiny room in a small, half-timbered house. It’s now part of a museum depicting the writer’s life.
“Danish children study Hans Christian Andersen like the English study Shakespeare,” I was told. “I think, had HCA married and had children, the fairy tales would never have appeared. These were an entry to other people’s family life for the lonely, difficult man.”
For the more cerebral, Copenhagen celebrates philosopher Soren Kierkegaard’s 200th birthday this year. Widely considered to be the first existentialist philosopher, Kierkegaard is the subject of lectures, conferences, and other events. www.denmark.dk
Deutsche Zentrale für Tourismus e.V.Germany: Once upon a time, there were two brothers who wrote fairytales. They lived in Germany and December 20 marked publishing’s 200th anniversary of Children’s And Household Tales by the Brothers Grimm. This is their anniversary year, with events taking place across the country. A 600-kilometre German Fairytale Route runs from the brothers’ birthplace in Hanau, to Bremen, where a statue of The Town Musicians of Bremen celebrates the brothers’ famous story.
Events include the Fairytale Festival (through July 1) in Hanau, Literary Spring exhibition in Kassel (July 18 to August 18) and more. www.germany.travel
Holland: The house where Anne Frank wrote her famous diary is a museum with a story. In the heart of Amsterdam, visitors see the place where Anne hid from Nazis, and where she wrote for more than two years during the Second World War. It’s an emotional experience, and one of the city’s top visited sites.
On a happier theme, Utrecht celebrates Dick Bruna and his creation Miffy in the Dick Bruna Huis, a museum dedicated to the writer and his rabbit. Miffy has been translated into 40 languages, with more than 85 million books sold. www.holland.com
Tourism IrelandIreland: Ireland has such a rich tapestry of authors, poets, playwrights and storytellers it’s impossible to list them. Dublin is a UNESCO City of Literature and no wonder. Culture pours off the very pavement.
Take a tour of Glasnevin Cemetery and walk in the footsteps of James Joyce’s Ulysses character Leopold Bloom. Visit the Dublin Writers Museum to explore a rich literary past and present. And don’t miss Trinity College and the Book of Kells, one of its great library treasures. The 9th-century illuminated manuscript has its own exhibition and is one of many cherished objects.
Across the island on the west coast is Yeats Country – poet W.B. Yeats that is – comprising Sligo and parts of Leitrim and Roscommon. The poet and his artist brother Jack drew inspiration from the sloping green hills, the lakes, and the megalithic grave complex at Carrowmore. www.visitireland.com
©VisitBritain / Daniel BosworthUnited Kingdom: With the legions of Jane Austen fans in Canada it seems only right to concentrate on the 200th publishing anniversary of Pride and Prejudice this year.
What better than a tour of Jane’s England? Start at her birthplace in Steventon, Hampshire where she wrote Northanger Abbey, Sense & Sensibility and Pride & Prejudice. The family moved to Chawton, near Alton, in 1809 and their home is now Jane Austen’s House Museum.
Walkers will enjoy following in her footsteps in a circular hike to Farringdon, or the nearby market town of Alton where she and sister Cassandra shopped.
Bath is another must-see on the Austen trail. She lived there between 1801 and 1805, and the town’s Jane Austen Centre hosts an annual festival, this year from September 13 to 21. Included in the 67 events are exhibitions of costumes, manuscripts and film clips plus Regency dancing, music and drama. www.visitbritain.com
There was a time when Europe, in particular Portugal, Spain, and England, ruled the waves. Here are some suggestions for those who “love to go down to the sea in ships.”
Denmark: Fregatten Jylland is the world’s longest preserved wooden battleship and the last screw-propelled steam frigate. It featured in the Battle of Helgoland on May 9, 1864 during the Second War of Schleswig in 1864. The battle is re-enacted in a drama-packed cannon display daily throughout the summer season. Location: Ebeltoft near Aarhus. www.visitdenmark.com
Jose Manuel/Turismo de PortugalPortugal: Lisbon was the medieval Cape Canaveral, and its control centre was Torre de Belem. In those days the Torre (tower) was in the middle of Lisbon’s busy Tagus River. Today it’s surrounded by land, but back then the mighty explorers would wait there to pick up sealed orders before setting out for the unknown. Once the centre of exploration to the New World, it’s now a museum housing a fascinating collection of marine instruments and weapons.
Farther along the river The Discoverers is a magnificent monument honouring Portuguese explorers. The column of giant figures is led by Prince Henry the Navigator.
For a broad picture of Portugal’s history of navigation visit the Navy Museum in Lisbon’s Belem district, with displays from the 15th century to the present, including treasure, instruments and other items recovered from wrecks. www.visitportugal.com
Sweden: The whole family will enjoy Gothenburg’s Maritime Adventure Centre at Packhuskajen (the quay). Housed within is an armada of 20 vessels including a U-boat, destroyers, minelayers and fireboats. Other maritime objects are on display (many of them interactive) and if you have a Gothenburg City Card admission is free. www.visitsweden.com
Tourism IrelandUnited Kingdom: This year marks the 60th anniversary of the Royal Yacht Britannia. Launched in April 1953, HMY Britannia was decommissioned in December 1997. It’s now a dedicated museum in Leith, a suburb of Edinburgh. Visitors come to see what life was like on board the Queen’s floating royal residence and to sip a cuppa on the Royal Deck Tea Room where the Royal Family enjoyed entertaining and relaxing.
Portsmouth, on England’s south coast, has a long maritime tradition and its Historic Dockyard is a must visit for naval history buffs. It’s home to Admiral Nelson’s flagship Victory (the oldest warship in the world still in commission), the Warrior, built in 1860 as the first iron-hulled, armoured warship powered by steam and sail, and the Mary Rose, flagship of Henry VIII who watched in distress as it sank, taking hundreds of crew to a tragic end. This year marks the opening of a new Mary Rose museum and the 30th anniversary of her raising.
In Belfast, Northern Ireland, the Titanic Belfast is much more than a museum. Built on the site of the Titanic’s construction, the architectural phenomenon opened last year, extending over nine galleries with special effects, dark rides, full-scale reconstructions and interactive features. www.visitbritain.com
On The Paths Of Pilgrims
Pilgrimage has been a focus of spirituality in Europe from the days of early Christianity, and the trails worn by those early wayfarers set the routes for today’s travellers. Not everyone embarks on a pilgrimage for spiritual reasons but many agree that, by the end of the journey, their outlook on life has changed, even by a little.
Bosnia & Herzegovina: In 1981 the Virgin Mary appeared to six teens playing in the hills of Medugorje. The apparitions did not cease and many sceptics became believers. Since then, over 15 million people have descended on the town near the Croatian border and Medjugorje has become the one of the largest Catholic pilgrimage sites in the world, despite controversy over the legitimacy of the visions and lack of approval from the Vatican. www.tourism.ba
© Atout France/Catherine BibolletFrance: Lourdes, where Mary appeared to St. Bernadette, is on the list of almost every religious tour of Europe, and it has a profound effect on the non-religious, too, despite the continuous throng of people.
Many spiritual sites dot France, such as the Cathedral of Notre Dame and the medieval Sainte Chapelle in Paris, the Basilica of St. Therese of Lisieux in Normandy and the Cathedral of Chartres. Take it in with an organized tour or independently. www.franceguide.com
Ireland: From the challenging St. Patrick’s Purgatory on Lough Derg with its three-day fast and rejection of shoes and sleep, to climbing the summit of Mount Croagh in County Mayo, from where it’s believed St. Patrick banished all the snakes from the land, Ireland is full of pilgrimage sites.
The most famous is probably Knock where, in 1879, a group of villagers saw an apparition of the Virgin, St. Joseph, and St. John the Evangelist. The shrine is open year round, but the main season runs from April to October, with the busiest time being late August, around the anniversary of the event. www.visitireland.com
Flickr/Harsh LightItaly: Home to countless places of worship Italy is one of the world’s foremost pilgrimage destinations. A few are mentioned here.
The Vatican is of course a top pilgrimage site for Roman Catholics, but there’s much in Rome that draws worshippers of many persuasions – be it the art, architecture, or the pantheon of ancient gods.
The Basilica of St. Francis in Assissi, Umbria is restored after earthquakes in 1997 toppled part of the walls damaging Giotto’s frescoes of the saint’s life. The town of Assissi is where the saint was born, where he worked, and where he died and his remains are housed in the Basilica.
Padre Pio (1887 – 1968) is considered one of the great mystics of modern times. Beatified in 2002 he lived and worked in San Giovanni Rotondo in Puglia, 290 kilometres east of Rome, where his preserved remains are on view in the Padre Pio Shrine. www.italia.it/en
Portugal: Central Portugal’s little town of Fatima is dominated by a huge sanctuary commemorating the six apparitions of Virgin Mary to three peasant children in 1917. Throngs of pilgrims visit each year, and a marked pilgrim path from Lisbon (mostly along the River Tejo) is now complete. www.visitportugal.com
VisitBritain/Daniel Bosworth/Kent Tourism AllianceSpain: Perhaps the world’s best-known pilgrimage, and one with many routes, is The Way of St. James (Camino de Santiago) ending in Santiago de Compostela in Galicia. The most popular route is the Camino Frances, tracing across northern Spain from St. Jean Pied de Port in southern France and stretching over 772 kilometres. Other routes begin in southern Spain, Portugal, England and Istanbul. spain.info.ca
United Kingdom: Pilgrim routes allow walkers to stay in local inns along the way, travelling over some of England’s greenest and most pleasant land.
The 100-kilometre St. Cuthbert's Way traces the seventh-century saint’s steps from Melrose Abbey in the Scottish lowlands to Lindisfarne in northern England.
In the south, the 192-kilometre Pilgrims’ Way runs from Winchester in the west to the shrine of Thomas a Becket in Canterbury Cathedral. It follows the route made famous in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, and two thirds of the old track can still be seen. www.visitbritain.com