Europe in a Nutshell
With The Colosseum, The Kremlin, The Eiffel Tower and all the musical charms of a traditional Irish pub, and stretching from the sunny coast of Portugal to the sparse Ural Mountains of central Russia, Europe takes in 50 countries, over 200 languages and a vast array of the world’s most famous sites, making this cultural behemoth many traveler’s dream destination.
Europe encompasses an area of 10,180,000km² (3,930,000 square miles), stretching from Asia to the Atlantic, and from Africa to the Arctic. European countries welcome more than 480 million international visitors per year, more than half of the global market, and 7 of the 10 most visited countries are European nations.
The west hosts the cultural grandeur of former empires: the Houses of Parliament in London, the elegant yet surreal art of Barcelona and the ‘pillars of civilization’ in the crumbling buildings of Athens (not to mention the joys of old-world Rome). To the east you’ll find a world emerging fast from the remnants of communism, and blessed with the rustic beauty of the Romanian countryside and an imposing gothic look crossed with bohemian novelty in beautiful Prague.
There are experiences you’ll never forget, like sunrise over Stonehenge on the longest day of the year, eyed to the pacey beats of hippies, or the gentle splash of your gondola weaving down the watery streets of Venice. For nature fans, the soaring peaks of the Alps and the Pyrenees blow skiers’ and hikers’ minds. With a little luck, you can gasp at the eerie natural lights of northernmost Norway, or swim with turtles off the rustic coastlines of Greece.
For modern-day mayhem, Germany’s beer halls, the glitz and glamor of Monaco’s casinos and a host of summer music festivals offer nightlife you’ll never forget; central Europe’s snowy Christmas markets put you in seasonal spirit, while liberal Amsterdam lets you bend the rules without breaking them. Earlier in the day, Belgium’s mussels, Italy’s ice cream, Spain’s fried baby squid and the soft Cepelinai dumplings of Lithuania will all have you hassling the chef for recipes.
Modern day humans, or homo sapiens, are the last surviving species belonging to the Homo genus. The first Homo species appeared 2.8 Ma (million years ago) in east Africa. The Homo species would continue to evolve over the next 2.6 million years, until the emergence of Homo sapiens and the eradication of other homo species. These other species, mainly Homo erectus and Homo neanderthalensis, migrated throughout Europe, settling as far north as Britain. Modern humans arrived in Europe during the Upper Paleolithic between 45,000 and 43,000 years ago. The earlier inhabitants quickly vanished toward the end of the last ice age, nearly 40,000 years ago. Their demise is often attributed to warmer climate change to which they could not easily adjust.
Humans proceeded to populate the entire continent of Europe during the Mesolithic. They eventually reached the European Russian Arctic 40,000 years ago. The Minoans settled on the island of Crete, spread throughout the Aegean region, and became the first major civilization in Europe. They flourished from about 2600 to 1400 BC. The Minoans are often referred to as the 'the initial link in the European chain'. They developed their own language and writing systems, although very little can be translated. They domesticated bees, cattle, sheep, and goat. They harvested crops like lettuce, grapes, poppies, celery, and carrots to sustain themselves and to participate in overseas trading. Greece, Cyprus, Syria, Egypt, Mesopotamia, and Anatolia were all civilizations the Minoans regularly traded with. Minoan cities allowed for roads, water and sewage facilities through the use of clay pipe, multi-story buildings, light wells, and well constructed rooftops.
The Minoans appeared to live peacefully until onset of the Mycenaean period. Minoan civilization came to an abrupt end, and the cause of its demise is not fully known. The island of Thera was home of one of the largest volcanic explosions in modern-day history. It was about 100 km from Crete, and is believed to have caused economic hardships for the Minoans. Some believe that the volcanic ash hindered plant growth, starving the population. There is also a theory that the volcanic eruption caused a tsunami that further devastated their existence. Although the exact details are unknown, most archaeologists agree that the eruption left the civilization in a vulnerable state, which led to them being overtaken by the Mycenaean.
The period known as classical antiquity began with the emergence of the city-states of ancient Greece. Later, the Roman Empire came to dominate the entire Mediterranean basin. The fall of the Roman Empire in AD 476 traditionally marks the start of the Middle Ages. Beginning in the 14th century a Renaissance of knowledge challenged traditional doctrines in science and theology. Simultaneously, the Protestant Reformation set up Protestant churches primarily in Germany, Scandinavia and England. After 1800, the Industrial Revolution brought prosperity to Britain and Western Europe. The main powers set up colonies in most of the Americas and Africa, and parts of Asia. In the 20th century, World War I, and World War II resulted in massive numbers of deaths. The Cold War dominated European geo-politics from 1947 to 1989. Unification into a European Union moved forward after 1950, with some setbacks. Today, most countries west of Russia belong to the NATO military alliance, along with the United States
The rise of Europe
The desire to structure society introduced social hierarchies and the idea of feudalism. During this time, the lords in power would hold the land in exchange for service or labor. In short, the king owned all of the land. He would disperse land to his leading nobles, who would in turn require peasants to look after the land in exchange for their portion of produce. European feudalism held inhabitants to a permanent position in society
Infighting between groups due to small geographical boundaries and distribution of rich resources throughout the fairly small region resulted in advances in warfare and technologies to support that ... as Chinese invented gunpowder but it took the crazy bloodthirsty Europeans to figure out how to kill people using chemistry of an explosive. And it took good blacksmiths to build a tiny version of the cannon called a gun and half the forests in Europe to smelt the metal to build all the guns used to kill each other off, in other cultures that spoke the same tongue -- a lot less bloodshed occurred and a lot less technology to kill each other was invented.
Having that many people fighting (In 1900 roughly 500 million of 1.7 billion on earth were European and perhaps 200 million of 1 billion in 1800s) just accelerated the development of civilization and knowledge, a means to survive and advance your personal chances of winning a battle. Simply put, between smelting advances and cheap access to forests for fuel, Europeans are more bloodthirsty and have more history of warfare then any other area, humanity has all the great battles and wars to thank for most of our technology and civilization too. Humans are the mammalian equivalent of social ants, only instead of social nest building, we have a social intelligence and build social knowledgebases through the ability to learn from and teach others. Like ants we aren't very impressive on our own, but working together, what our collective intelligence can do is astounding. What has made our visible achievements increase exponentially over the years is population growth. In order to build more complicated and involved knowledge and technology, it is necessary for different people in our collective brain to specialise - it is unlikely that Newton or Einstein would have been able to make their contributions to scientific knowledge if they were required to be hunter gathers fending for themselves, rather than being able to specialize as scientists. If they lived in a village with a population of 150, then it is unlikely that it would be able to support scientists, whereas a country with a population of 60 million could support that degree of specialization
The birth of civilization clearly grew from the same tension. Tribal groups that set up farms and domesticated animals, in certain ecological situations, ended up with greater survival value -- and thus flourished in the group selection competition. But individuals, seeking the best for themselves, then exploited this new situation in a variety of complex ways, leading to developments like markets, arts, schools and the whole gamut. Not all of these new developments were actually best for the tribe -- some of the ways individuals grew to exploit the new, civilized group dynamics actually were bad for the group. But then the group adapted, and got more complex to compensate. Eventually this led to twisted sociodynamics like we have now ... with (post)modern societies that reject and psychologically torment their individualistic nonconformist rebels, yet openly rely on these same rebels for the ongoing innovation needed to compensate the widespread dissatisfaction modernity fosters.
Europe, prior to the conclusion of World War II, was a region ravaged by large-scale "total war". National leaders realized after World War II that closer socio-economic and political integration was needed to ensure that such tragedies never happened again. Starting with humble beginnings, the EU's first inception was the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) in 1951.
Post-1967, the EU continued to rapidly grow; Denmark, Ireland and the United Kingdom joined in 1973. Greece joined in 1981, Spain and Portugal in 1986 and Austria, Finland and Sweden in 1995. To date, Norway and Switzerland have resisted membership for historical and economic reasons though both have close relations with the EU. The EU pressed on with economic integration and launched the euro (€) across several nations on 1 Jan 2002. Currently, 18 nations use the euro as their official currency. In addition, San Marino, the Vatican, Monaco, Andorra and Montenegro, which are also not EU members, have been granted official permission to use the euro.
In 2004, a further 10 countries joined the EU. These were: Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia. In 2007, Bulgaria and Romania joined; Croatia joined in July 2013, while Albania, Iceland, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Turkey are all official applicants.
Balkans (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, (partly) Croatia, Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, Romania, Kosovo and Serbia)
Balkans have a rich, though often turbulent, history with wonderful nature, charming multicultural towns, impressive monasteries and citadels dotting the hillsides, and mountains with beautiful forests, pleasant lakes, and stunning beaches.
Baltic states (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania)
Three fascinating states that have glorious beaches along an extensive coastline, medieval old towns, and beautiful natural scenery. Estonia has linguistic and cultural ties with Finland.
Benelux (Belgium, Luxembourg, Netherlands)
The Netherlands is known for its clogs, cheese, tulips and windmills, and for its liberal attitudes and painters. Belgium is a multilingual country with beautiful historic cities, bordering Luxembourg at the rolling hills of the Ardennes.
Britain and Ireland (Guernsey, Ireland, Isle of Man, Jersey, United Kingdom)
Britain is a diverse patchwork of native and immigrant cultures, possessing a fascinating history and dynamic modern culture, both of which remain hugely influential in the wider world. Ireland has rolling landscapes and characteristic customs, traditions and folklore.
Central Europe (Austria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Liechtenstein, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Switzerland)
Central Europe is the region where Germanic culture meets Slavic culture. It is home to innumerable historic towns, fairy-tale castles, beer, forests, unspoiled farmland, and plenty of mountain ranges, including the mighty Alps and Carpathians.
France and Monaco
France is the world's most popular tourist destination known for its gastronomy, history, culture and fashion. Some of its tourist attractions include Paris, the French Riviera, the Atlantic beaches, the Alps, castles of the Loire Valley, Brittany, Normandy, and the rural landscape of Provence. Monaco is a beautiful, ultra-wealthy principality overlooking the Mediterranean.
Greece, Cyprus and Turkey
Counting the most amount of sun-hours in Europe, the Eastern Mediterranean is a haven for beach-goers, party-people and cultural enthusiasts alike.
Caucasus (Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan)
A region presenting a remarkable mix of landscapes, ranging from high mountain peaks and wine-growing valleys to lush Black Sea resorts. Like the Balkans, Caucasus is at the intersection of Christian and Islamic cultures and is among the more "exotic" areas of the continent
Iberia (Andorra, Gibraltar, Portugal, Spain)
The Iberian countries are great destinations for their rich and unique cultures, lively cities, beautiful countryside and friendly inhabitants.
Italy (Italy, Malta, San Marino, Vatican City)
Rome, Florence, Venice and Pisa are on many travellers' itineraries, but these are just a few of Italy's destinations. Italy has more history and culture packed into it than many other countries combined.
Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus
Russia is a country of vast, empty expanses that spans all the way east to the Pacific Ocean. Ukraine is a diverse country that has a lot to offer, from the beach resorts of the Black Sea to the beautiful cities Odessa, Lviv and Kiev. North of Ukraine lies Belarus, a country unlike anywhere else in Europe.
Nordic countries (Denmark, Faroe Islands, Norway, Finland, Iceland, Sweden)
Spectacular scenery of mountains, lakes, glaciers, geysers, waterfalls and volcanoes. Finland is culturally distinct as it has a language unlike the Scandinavian languages.
Getting around is easy, with long distance buses, budget airlines and Euro rail passes that’ll keep you hopping through countries galore, and an ever-increasing number of competent English speakers to help you on your way. Over each border a new greeting awaits you: a glass of wine in France, an extra strength coffee in Italy, a Guinness in Dublin, a bowl of olives in Greece and a slug of vodka in the Ukraine, each one unique, and each unforgettable. We've broken it up into distinct regions to make Europe feel a little more digestible. See what takes your fancy.
Capitalism has been dominant in the Western world since the end of feudalism. From Britain, it gradually spread throughout Europe. The Industrial Revolution started in Europe, specifically the United Kingdom in the late 18th century, and the 19th century saw Western Europe industrialise. Economies were disrupted by World War I but by the beginning of World War II they had recovered and were having to compete with the growing economic strength of the United States. World War II, again, damaged much of Europe's industries.
After World War II the economy of the UK was in a state of ruin, and continued to suffer relative economic decline in the following decades. Italy was also in a poor economic condition but regained a high level of growth by the 1950s. West Germany recovered quickly and had doubled production from pre-war levels by the 1950s. France also staged a remarkable comeback enjoying rapid growth and modernisation; later on Spain, under the leadership of Franco, also recovered, and the nation recorded huge unprecedented economic growth beginning in the 1960s in what is called the Spanish miracle. The majority of Central and Eastern European states came under the control of the Soviet Union and thus were members of the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (COMECON).
The states which retained a free-market system were given a large amount of aid by the United States under the Marshall Plan. The western states moved to link their economies together, providing the basis for the EU and increasing cross border trade. This helped them to enjoy rapidly improving economies, while those states in COMECON were struggling in a large part due to the cost of the Cold War. Until 1990, the European Community was expanded from 6 founding members to 12. The emphasis placed on resurrecting the West German economy led to it overtaking the UK as Europe's largest economy.
With the fall of communism in Central and Eastern Europe in 1991, the post-socialist states began free market reforms: Poland, Hungary, and Slovenia adopted them reasonably quickly, while Ukraine and Russia are still in the process of doing so.
After East and West Germany were reunited in 1990, the economy of West Germany struggled as it had to support and largely rebuild the infrastructure of East Germany.
By the millennium change, the EU dominated the economy of Europe comprising the five largest European economies of the time namely Germany, the United Kingdom, France, Italy, and Spain. In 1999, 12 of the 15 members of the EU joined the Eurozone replacing their former national currencies by the common euro. The three who chose to remain outside the Eurozone were: the United Kingdom, Denmark, and Sweden. The European Union is now the largest economy in the world
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