Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Grand Tour

This weekend I was discussing Europe with some Americans and I got asked which was my favourite city in Europe. I tried to explain without name dropping too many cities I had been to that because Europe wasn’t one country – it was lots of different ones with different history, culture, language, food, architecture… I couldn’t just pick one city. Most capital cities of European countries have something special to offer, in fact most cities have some aspect that is unique and special.
I don’t think we Brits appreciate how lucky we are having such travel opportunities on our doorstep. Many Americans are desperate to visit Europe but poor holiday allowances, prohibitive costs and, for 63% of them, a lack of passport makes it impossible. Americans are pretty insular geographically and seem to spend all their time leaning the names of the state capitals rather than exploring the geography of the world! On the other hand we (71% have passports) go to Europe to lie on a beach, get sunburned and drink too much and call it travel!

I haven’t been many places in the states yet but Washington tops as the place to visit so far!  Each State has its own state capital. One reason the Americans would not appreciate the uniqueness of European cities is some state capitals were designed from scratch. They didn’t grow organically. Raleigh is the state capital of North Carolina. Raleigh’s location was chosen because of its proximity to a Tavern the state legislators used! That must have been so they could get pissed, not bother to plan a city and just use the blue print for Philadelphia instead. They didn’t seem to notice Philadelphia has a big river running through it… or that Raleigh is a mirror image – they must have turned the plans over! As cities go Raleigh is bottom of my list. It has no atmosphere! Other than on the day I toured it on a Segway with my sister and niece. Now that was funny…until my sister mounted the curb and overturned herself and her Segway onto me and broke off my Wheel hub! I nearly peed my pants I laughed so much.
Something familiar? In the heart of Savannah
I went to Savannah in Georgia recently. It was really beautiful and familiar. The European influences were very apparent and that is why I liked it. The city founders wanted to capture the grandeur of tree lined avenues in Paris. There are many fine examples of Georgian (as in George I not Georgia) Regency and French architecture. Down by the waterfront there was a huge 19th Century redbrick building – ‘The cotton Exchange’. It could have been lifted straight out of Manchester- well the plans probably were, along with the bricks. It hasn’t all been knocked down to make way for wider roads and strip Malls like some places in America. Its very high percentage of Irish might be to thank for the lovely little pubs dotted everywhere. Apparently they dye the fountains green on St Patrick’s Day. It is designed on a grid system like most American cities but the grids contain 22 squares which are miniature parks. The Brit in charge combined the opportunity to design a brand new city with all the best things from Europe included.  Sadly not all US cities were planned so well. All grid and no Grandeur!
Discussing the French influences of Savannah I was asked if it was true that the French hated Americans. I explained that as I was neither I really had no idea. (I didn’t add that I could probably hazard a guess!) Maybe it was my home city’s proximity to Luxembourg that confused them. I said I was from Birmingham and was asked if Luxembourg was nearby. (You know – the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg – a country in its own right!) I guess in American terms it is nearby. They were surprised when I explained I lived on an Island unconnected to Europe. I have, previously, even been asked if I am French! Even the local supermarket's new 'international section' consisting of all things British (which I am soooo excited about) such as Ribena, treacle pudding and HP sauce has a little row of SaurKraut next to the Heinz baked beans. It's all Greek to them!
I was told I would like Boston.. because it is so English! Speaking about this one American said you can’t see the British influence any more. I questioned this. Surely the architecture was very British. He said ‘Oh Yes – It is – but it isn’t full of British people any more’. MMmmmm! That might be because it was in the 1770’s that the Colony rebelled against the British rule and America went on to win the War of Independence! The Brits went home or eventually became American! Didn’t manage to stay there for the last 200 years holding on to their English accents but did enough to ensure it is a pretty city!
I went on to recommend Italy – I haven’t been to Rome but I loved Florence and Venice. One American was alarmed. He said his friend went to Naples and was issued with a taser gun when he got off the plane. Clearly a lack of geographical and cultural knowledge here. I think he was confusing Naples, Italy – a UNESCO world Heritage site - with Naples, Florida*.

*Where there are lots of reported taser related activities including Rush guitarist Alex Lifeson being tasered!)


  1. Maybe Alex Lifeson found out the person who tasered him was British and that's why he's charging nearly 300 quid for a front row seat at the MEN arena in May!

  2. They really are on another 'planet' !
    Loved the segway story, I now have a picture in my head of Deb mounting a pavement !! LOL - thanks :-)

  3. Loved the English telephone box in Savannah. Must say i miss them from our landscape.Fancy nearly wetting yourself at your sisters misdemeanour!!!! ,but i can imagine it ,tittering now at the thought of it :-)

  4. Ahh - Red phone boxes - iconic symbol of Britian now found all over the world except Britian!

    May be Alex Lifeson needs to finance a long holiday after his ordeal! The link is to him bleating about how awful the Naples police thugs are... well if he will charge £300 he's gonna get some anger!

  5. Careful, you've dropped your nom de plume

  6. How very careless of me! Sorted! I am strange once again!

    LJ I recommend touring a city on a Segway for the pure comedy!

  7. Don't want those pesky locals spoiling all the fun

  8. So who's going to be the first one to manage taking a picture or two of you on a segway! Without falling off...

  9. Spent another few hours going through back blogs - I am invisible!!! (almost - got about 20 to go!)
    Segway pics on face book!