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Europe, the museum of western civilization and the cradle of western culture, is not content to rest on its many, many laurels. From the ancient glories of rowdy Rome to the bike-lined canals of Amsterdam; from the sexy and stuffy grandeur of London to the passion and paella of Spain; from sultry Paris to exciting Berlin, Europe is everything you ever thought it was and a whole lot more.
If you're looking to consolidate the well-worn impressions of the European experience you certainly won't be disappointed, but stay on your toes because Europe is changing faster than anyone can imagine - not a bad time to come along for the ride.
EUROPE TOURS & TRAVEL:
DENMARK Tours, Travel and Activities
The littlest and most southern of the Scandinavian countries, Denmark offers a puppet-theater mix of lively cities and rural countryside. Ancient castles, ring forts, jazz festivals, the sleekest modern design you'll ever see and the people who invented Lego - who could ask for more?
Danish Vikings once took to the seas and ravaged half of Europe, but these days they've filed down their horns and forged a society that sees itself as a benchmark of civilization, with progressive policies and a liberal social-welfare system.
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FINLAND Tours, Travel and Activities
Finland is for the most part a quiet land, where a cottage by a lake and a properly stoked sauna is all that's required for happiness. It's a vast expanse of forests and lakes and more forests, punctuated by towns full of people who are genuinely surprised to see tourists.
During the months of the midnight sun, coastal regions are a sailing and fishing paradise. Inland, the largest unspoilt wilderness in Europe attracts thousands every year. In the south, the capital Helsinki is a paradise for lovers of art and architecture.
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ICELAND Tours, Travel and Activities
The country with the chilly name is rapidly becoming one of Europe's hottest destinations. Much of Iceland's popularity is due to its natural features, which include glaciers, hot springs, geysers, active volcanoes, portentous peaks and vast lava deserts.
In addition to its expansive landscape, it has a rich history and folklore tradition. However, Iceland's appeal is tempered by the most expensive prices in Europe. That doesn't mean it can't be visited on a shoestring, but it does mean that budget travelers will have to work a little harder.
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NORWAY Tours, Travel and Activities
Norway is a ruggedly beautiful country of mountains, fjords and glaciers. The 'Land of the Midnight Sun' has delightfully long summer days, pleasantly low-key cities, unspoiled fishing villages and rich historic sites that include Viking ships and medieval stave churches.
Possessed of a staid reputation and by no measure Scandinavia's most beautiful city, low-key Oslo nonetheless has lots to see and do - it just doesn't make such a big fuss about it.
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SWEDEN Tours, Travel and Activities
Since the devaluation of the Swedish crown, Sweden has become much more affordable, and the simple joys of fresh air, landscape and culture are free. Its forests are starkly beautiful, its lakes giant. Stockholm, the country's capital, is a progressive city with pockets that maintain a village feel.
Gothenburg and Malmo also beckon with urban delights. Away from the cities, Sweden takes in vast areas of scenic coastline and idyllic islands. The wilderness areas of Norrland have the legendary midnight sun in summer, Arctic Scandinavia's highest mountain and marvelous hiking trails.
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BULGARIA Tours, Travel and Activities
Bulgaria has changed swiftly over the last decade, though in the villages you can still find folk who ride the donkey to work, eat home-grown potatoes and make their own cheese. The difference now is that they wash it all down in front of a satellite TV.
When Bulgaria ran away with the topsy-turvy capitalist circus, no-one told its people they were swinging without a safety net. But what the visitor encounters now is a country struggling valiantly to adapt and people who remain remarkably hospitable in the face of social and economic chaos. Urban Bulgaria, especially Sofia, is much changed.
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LITHUANIA Tours, Travel and Activities
Rebellious, quirky and vibrant, Lithuania (Lietuva) is Europe's best-kept secret. Shoved successfully between Russian pillar and Nazi post, tenacious little Lithuania stunned the world when it played David and Goliath with the might of the Soviet Union - and won its independence just over a decade ago.
Its capital, Vilnius, is an incredibly small place (can this really be a capital city?) with astonishing contrasts - eerie shadowy courtyards, eccentric artist community, awesome arts and beautiful baroque.
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ROMANIA Tours, Travel and Activities
Romania has the majestic castles, medieval towns, great hiking and wildlife, and cheap skiing of much of the 'undiscovered' former Eastern Bloc. You'll be floored at how different it is, but you'll almost certainly see signs that it's chasing the dreams of the rest of the West.
Horse-drawn carts jostle for space against fast cars whose drivers are talking money on mobile phones; farm workers watch Baywatch on satellite in their medieval farmhouses. Romania is clawing itself forward, slowly and surely sloughing off the remnants of the Ceausescu era.
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RUSSIA Tours, Travel and Activities
Churchill's "riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma" remains an apt description of Russia; most outsiders have only a hazy idea of its realities. A composite of the extravagant glories of old Russia and the drab legacies of the Soviet era, it's a country that both befuddles and beguiles.
This is a land of snow and deadly winters, but also of rivers that meander across meadows and a midsummer sun that never sets. Its people, in the words of a Russian proverb, "love to suffer," yet they also love to party and can be disarmingly generous and hospitable.
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UKRAINE Tours, Travel and Activities
Ukraine's Orange Revolution has ushered in a new era, and a rousing sense of rebellion and thirst for change still lingers in the air here. In the frenetic capital Kyiv citizens flaunt bold fashions and fresh attitudes as they smoke, drink, and dance wherever they want.
At the dawn of the new millennium, things began to look up for Ukraine. The Chernobyl nuclear power plant was closed, and the last Soviet nuclear missile silo destroyed in 2001. The economy started a period of sustained growth and in 2002 the government decided to abandon its policy of neutrality.
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