Alistair Caldicott

Travels in The New Europe: A Changing Continent

Purchase 'Travels in The New Europe: A Changing Continent'

Travels in the New Europe: A Changing Continent

From well above the Arctic Circle in the northern most reaches of Scandinavia all the way down to the bottom stub of the Ukrainian Crimea on the Black Sea. From the bewildering metropolis of Moscow across the continental landmass to the mysterious Albania and the war-scarred Balkans. From the beauty of St. Petersburg to the ugliness of rioting in Budapest. From the sobering greyness of Nazi death camps in Poland to the rewarding challenges of Ukraine.

As the Iron Curtain of communism drew back from Eastern Europe, many of its countries, which had been discreetly hiding in the shade of its shadows for so long, emerged blinking into the headlights of our new exposure. At first we squinted back at them, but now we are managing to see them in clearer focus. Gradually, these countries have begun to assert their own identities onto our radar maps.

We have long viewed Eastern Europe as grey, backward and poor. But now its colours are being filled in, as it bulges forwards towards us in the West. And in doing so, the richness and diversity of its individual countries, cities, people and life are beginning to make the mark they deserve to.

We keep being told the world is getting smaller and globalisation is making everywhere and everyone instantly accessible. But is it really?

Europe has so much to offer, so many views to admire, so many cities to marvel at, so many people to engage, so many stories to tell. To our eyes and ears, Europe has been enlarging, or getting bigger, in recent years. More and more of it is opening up before us. Suddenly, we are noticing that some very big and some very small countries are not really all that far away from our own crowded island.

My aim was to explore some of the further reaches of Europe, mainly Eastern Europe, some of its must see cities, but also some of the lesser known delights too, as well as the more mainstream ones. There are still more than a few intriguing corners of this well-trodden continent, which have survived the ravages of history and even avoided mass tourism. Popular discovery has yet to mark some of them properly.

Eastern Europe has plenty of appealing nooks and attractive crannies to submerge yourself into. In some places you have a good idea of what you will find, but other places still, it seemed, had that wonderful capacity to surprise, repel and delight, sometimes all at the same time.

Travel has so many virtues. It can be face-slapping, eyebrow-stretching, mind-shaking, blood flow pumping. It sharpens your senses, freshens your outlook, bolsters vitality. It can be an incredibly life affirming and enhancing thing to undertake.

Sometimes I wonder why more people don’t reorganise their lives, if only for a few months or weeks, to do this sort of thing. Even to go anywhere, however near or far, easy or challenging, anywhere different. If you’ve done it yourself in any capacity, you’ll understand exactly what I mean.

Of course, it is never straightforward. To get the most out of a meaningful journey, you will inevitably find yourself enduring disappointment, embracing uncertainty, confronting a fear and having your determination tested. But it can ultimately be rewarding to throw yourself mercilessly into the middle of something, something different which stretches and shakes you for the better.

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