What’s happening in Europe – Eyewitness Series Part One

As it happened in summer: In Barcelona, there were two terrorist vehicle attacks that left 16 dead and 120 wounded. In London, there were eight people killed in a terrorist attack at London Bridge and only weeks later there was an attempted bomb attack on a tube train in Parsons Green that left thirty people injured. Four students from the US were at a hospital in Marseille after they were sprayed with acid in the face. French authorities are not treating the incident as terror-related since the suspect is a 40-year old woman known for her mental health problems.

So far this year I was on fourteen different trips in South Africa, Great Britain, Portugal, Austria, Colombia, Spain, Italy, Poland and Germany. Follow my adventures on Instagram, you won’t find travel quotes there, sorry, but I give an insight into every place I visit. I love to go for walks at the Louvre in Paris, I love strolls along Southbank in London and visiting the Borough Market, I love to go for walks in the West of Berlin and I love to go shopping all around Las Ramblas in Barcelona. I’m there together with thousands of other tourists and locals who love these places as much as I do.

All terrorist attacks plus attacks carried out by people with mental health problems make me think. Everybody who has ever lost somebody close knows these feelings of helplessness, sadness and anger that arise when confronted with death. After every terrorist attack, I can’t help but think of every single of the victim's loved one's feelings. It is truly frightening to imagine that. Why would terrorists do this to others? I know this is something I won’t understand and can’t explain. The only thing I know is that it all changed after 9/11.

I remember the day in June before 9/11 when I went through security at Dubai airport, with a lighter the size and form of a hand-held firearm. Don’t ask why I found this hilarious at the time, I don’t know the answer. They took it away from me and I made a proper scene to no avail. Or imagine this; I own an axe that was given to me as a present. It had been traded in for two buttoned-down checkered shirts, one green and one red in colour, in Zambia. The axe was brought back, securely stored, and this is unbelievable, in hand luggage. Today I can’t even carry 101 ml of shampoo through security. Look at this photo...

Axe that travelled in hand luggage on a flight from Zambia

As if these terrorist attacks wouldn’t be worrying us all enough there are also the people who thrive on spreading hate. What worries me, to a great degree, is that people buy that. On the day of a terrorist attack everybody is Je suis Paris, Je suis Berlin, or Je suis Brussels, but the next morning the very same people cry for borders between France and Belgium and Germany and everywhere. Why out of a sudden do we all need to be scared of each other, it doesn’t make any sense to me. I would have to meet every single person in this world to be able to form an informed opinion about that person. Not jumping onto the hate train, I won’t believe what haters spread about others, it is simply wrong. We need to find ways to convince the haters that hate is wrong and we need to find ways to show them that the world is a beautiful place. Every individual is part of a bigger picture; we are not isolated from the rest of the world. That is what it makes life so interesting.

Engaging as many people as possible in conversation is one way for me to make the world a better place. I asked three people from three different continents, Africa, Europe and North America about Europe and how they feel about it. They are all passionate about travelling and travelled through Europe over the last weeks or months. Here is what they have to say...

Director of Ever Thought of Trying. Ben Lee about Europe

Ben Lee, Great Britain. Ben is the director of Ever Thought of Trying, a company that aims to explain customers the heritage and culture of the place they are going to visit. Ben wants tourists to feel the places, true to his motto: Ever Thought of Trying. Isn't it time you experience here? Ask him all about travelling on Twitter and Instagram

Ben Lee - Ever Thought of Trying

Together, yet different. Connected, but separated by land and sea. Many languages, but a shared understanding of values.

It’s this coming together of seemingly juxtaposed concepts that make Europe the most vibrant melting pot of culture and ideas it is today. The supposed clash of differences between countries and cultures has produced a shared understanding of each other which two world wars’ threatened to demolish.

Being British, this is particularly poignant at the moment as due to the colossal mess of Brexit (I’m a proud ‘Remoaner’), for the foreseeable future we will be more insular and backwards as a country, digging our heads in the sand and following a course less of shared equal benefits, but more of smash and grab until we wake up and realise WHAT HAVE WE DONE.

Founded on peace, promoting sustainability and shared co-operation, Europe opens its arms to others because we know what happens when you stigmatise ‘others’. It’s when you travel to the far-flung villages or islands of Europe that you appreciate the magic of Europe and just how interconnected we are. Sure, they don’t speak your language, the food is different, the weather has changed, but you’re still part of the same collective.

Even though it has been this way for nearly as long as I remember, I still feel pride and a sense of wonder when you cross a border in Europe and rather than having to stop, get out of your vehicle, get your passport checked and go through security, there is a simple blue sign with the new country’s name on it – and just like that, you are in a new country. These borderless borders are a great symbol of what makes Europe great.

Barriers have literally been brought down with the formation of Europe. Ever wanted to experience ‘La Dolce Vita’ that you see in the classic black and white Italian films? Ever wanted to taste the freshest baguettes from a patisserie in France? Wanted to see for yourself if Croatia is that jaw-droppingly beautiful in real life? Dreamt of seeing ancient Greek ruins where they were originally built and not just in a museum? A barrier-free Europe allows us to do this and make our dreams come true. In fact, for the millennial generation, it’s almost a right of being a European.

We would be silly to think that everything is completely fine and perfect as there are some obvious issues that need to be addressed. But these things need to be fixed together. Collaboration is what formed Europe and is what will help Europe get over its current issues and evolve.

As the late, great, Jo Cox said – “We are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us”.

Explanatory note: Joe Cox was a British politician and remain supporter (Brexit campaign) who died in June 2016 after she was stabbed and shot by a fellow countryman who yelled “Britain first” during the attack. Joe Cox was 42 years old when she was murdered.

Freelance Journalist and Writing Coach. Caitlin Kelly about Europe

Caitlin Kelly, USA. Caitlin is an award-winning Canadian journalist and writing/blogging coach based in Tarrytown, New York and has – so far – visited 40 countries. Talk to Caitlin on Twitter and read her blog on Caitlin Kelly.

Caitlin Kelly - Freelance Journalist and Writing Coach

So you’re eager to head off to Europe, touring its famous cities and sights. Few places are as alluring, full of great food, history, shopping, architecture, museums, music, street art, people to meet, new friends to discover…

I spent six weeks there this past summer, most of it alone and much of it limping with an injured knee, wearing a knee brace, (i.e. vulnerable, and unable to run, or even walk quickly), while traveling in Paris, Berlin, Budapest, Zagreb, coastal Croatia, Venice and London.

As a journalist married to a man who spent eight years traveling with the White House Press Corps – who covered three U.S. Presidents as a New York Times photographer – I’ve learned through his experiences to be much more vigilant about my surroundings. I now pay closer attention to people, and objects, nearby. When you spend eight years watching Secret Service officers keep world leaders safe from harm, you learn a lot!

Situational awareness is key. Twice I watched -- on a narrow street in the crowded and touristy Marais section of Paris and also on the Ku’damm of Berlin --- as a large truck pulled up, (and did, luckily, very quickly disgorge a driver and his load.) But both times I was on high alert. While listening to an open-air park concert in Zagreb, I was happy to see police patrolling the crowds.

Did I feel safe on my travels? Generally, yes, very safe indeed. But a caveat --- I rarely go to places that are huge tourist attractions and therefore become --- as they say “target rich environments” --- like the Eiffel Tower or Tower of London or public squares or bridges where safe and fast egress is dangerous if not impossible. I check the interiors of buses and trains when I enter for odd/unclaimed packages and passengers who might be wearing far too much clothing than normal for that day’s weather.

I follow Twitter quite closely to read about developing or breaking news. I don’t wear headphones or ear buds when out in public; to stay aware and safe, I need to pay close attention to where I am.
I don’t walk staring into my phone for the same reason. I’m not someone who wakes up nervous or spends her vacation consumed with “What if?!” anxiety. But, given that several American students just got acid thrown in their faces in Marseille and another bomb went off in the London Tube you can’t just cross your fingers and hope. I’m not persuaded that travel anywhere, including in Europe, is 100 percent safe, nor when or how one can fully protect oneself. But nor will I allow fear to shut me into my home, my state or the country I live in – after all, New York City remains, 16 years later, the site of one of the worst terror attacks in recent history.

I plan to keep exploring the world, as curious and enthusiastically as ever. But I also plan to keep my eyes and ears open.

Editor of Travel Opulent Box and Travel Chat SA Founder. Patrycja Oosthuizen about Europe

Patrycja Oosthuizen, South Africa. Patrycja is the Editor of Travel Opulent Box and founder of #TravelChatSA, a community chat about travelling in and through South Africa. Patrycja was born in Poland and has been at home in Cape Town for years. Dreaming of South Africa? Talk to Patrycja on Twitter.

Patrycja Oosthuizen - Editor of Travel Opulent Box and Travel Chat SA Founder

I love Europe! And my love, it's not only based on the fact that my home country is in Europe but also on the fact that every time I go back there I find myself appreciate it even more. Why you'd ask?

Visiting places you've been to before and discovering something new every time is an unusual and very exciting thing to do. And you can expect that as cities and regions in Europe always evolve and improve.

What amazes me every time is how despite such a diversity of the cultures the history is preserved and treasured. Future generations can learn from the past and be proud of where their countries were. Plus every city has a castle - and I am a big castle explorer.

Food: Always the top factor of my love for Europe.

I also like how organised European cities are and how clean everywhere is as everyone takes care of their surroundings. Transport would be a top factor too - everything is accessible and it’s very easy to travel around. A brief few hours by train, bus or car will take you to another city or country.

But the most important factor of my love for Europe is its people and how welcoming and open they are everywhere. It's amazing how wherever you go - you are appreciated and welcome. You feel safe and part of the community. Simple arrival at the airport is full of smiles, people ready to help and assist.

I remember, a few years ago, I was flying back home to Poland. During the flight, I chatted to one of the passengers sitting next to me. The woman started the conversation with "You look so happy and excited - you must be flying home" - and that is exactly how I feel about travelling to Europe every time.

Despite many horrible happenings that took place in the past months, even years in Europe - I never feel scared or threatened. I am always excited to arrive on that side of the globe.


From Berlin with love