Europe, the old world

Europe is called the old world mainly due to the age of exploration, when Portuguese (Italians really), Spanish, then the Dutch followed by the French and English began epic sea voyages in search of – China. Ironic that instead of finding a way to China, these explorers turned colonialists “discovered” a whole new world unknown to Europe before. Hence the old world-new world.

As the continent most traveled, it makes more sense for us to do a more detailed page to illustrate just how deeply we had engaged with the cultures of Europe, well – really western and central Europe. Our handprint map for Europe shows so many pins that many might find incredulous.

When we looked back, it does appear incredible that we have actually touched so many places in one of the tiniest continents. On the map it looks similar sized with the others, but in reality it is really compact and small, barely larger than Australia at 10.2 million km²!

But within that compact and contiguous landmass, there is so much diversity in language, culture, food and even religion. One can say that it is really a mini UN in the European Union. We heard from the guides in Strasbourg that official documents of the EU have to be translated into the 28 languages!

Extreme Points of visit
Extreme ends of the continent for us

This page will not attempt to steal the thunder from the country and journey pages. However we saw that we should at least summarize and write an except about the places at the extreme cardinal directions we have been on this continent!

The Northernmost point

At this time it’s got to be Rovaniemi, Finland. The fjords of Norway does come close, but for now we will say that the self styled home of Santa Claus (not sure when he moved from the North pole) is the most northern point we touched in Europe.

Husky1It is a 1-hour flight from Helsinki to Rovaniemi. Located right on the arctic circle, it is supposedly home to large elf that Santa Claus is. Santa’s village of elves work all year round and Santa himself is available every day to meet with visitors. Don’t try this on Christmas, as surely he would be on his sleigh somewhere over the world…when you are here, try posting a greeting card to yourself and your loved ones. It’ll be fun for someone to receive a card from Santa.

While in Rovaniemi, we also made our way to see the husky dogs and enjoy a sleigh ride. Then there is a reindeer sleigh ride too, making our way across the forest and seeing wild reindeers roaming as it snows heavily. Too bad we did not have a clear day. We could have seen the Aurora Borealis!

Continue reading here about our journeys to Finland.

Where’s our Southernmost point

For this cardinal direction, it’s really a hard contest between what we call the jewel of the Mediterranean – Malta, or the beautiful beaches at Costa del Sol. After a game of paper/scissor/stone between Mel and Suan, we determined on the former.View of Valetta

We were achieving two objectives by flying into Malta from Amsterdam. First, we were there to explore some of the oldest excavated sites of early civilizations. The Hypogeum is world famous and needs reservation well ahead.

But the other reason for our going is to visit old friends. Literally. They were an old couple that we had met in our journey to Eastern Europe a number of years back (from the trip to Malta). Sadly, they have moved on to a better place. But we shall always remember them for their kind words and encouragement. They have also inspired us to emulate their loving couple ways!

Now Malta is not a place that many venture to. Read more about it here.

Most westerly point

While we would like to write more about Sintra in Portugal, we came to the conclusion that the Ring of Kerry on the emerald island of Ireland is our pick for the most extreme end of this cardinal direction that we have been on Europe.

Ring of Kerry4On an island where there are no snake species and possibly leprechauns lurking around, we journeyed around the edges of the really green island. In a way this journey is remarkable. Just a few years before, it would have not been possible to travel easily across the northern Ireland portion of the island into the republic. This is testament to the improved state of relations within the religion divided island.

We have to say that the Ring of Kerry is anything but. Why? Because we could hardly see in the midst that seem to perpetually cloud the area around Kilarney where we drove. So it is these grainy photos of the coast that we have retained as memory. Perhaps the Ring of Kerry is beckoning to us for a second journey…

For more about our adventure to the emerald island, read on here.

Easternmost location

Now we know that Helsinki will soon to be surpassed by Moscow for the title of the most eastern location of Europe we have touched. But for now we will leave it as it is. The Greek islands hugging Anatolia does come close but Helsinki it is.

Helsinki7Even though it is the capital, we did not spend a lot of time in the city. We did do some sightseeing, and in the winter it is quite fun to see the snow covered city. It was even an excuse to buy some reindeer fur for the floorboard!

The city is home to some ex-colleagues and also Finns who had been working in Singapore and had returned home. We spent the better part of our journey with them to understand more about everyday life in the cold harsh Scandinavia.

Continue reading here about our journeys to Finland.

In order to save some space on this page, rather than list the countries we have covered it is more practical to list the ones not:

Bulgaria Slovenia Albania Ukraine Croatia Latvia
Romania Montenegro Belarus Bosnia? Estonia Iceland
Macedonia Serbia Moldova Cyprus Lithuania Russia*

* Russia will be on our list of completed countries by May-16.

Now as you can observe, most of the above 18 countries listed are in the Balkans. In the years we were living in Holland, these countries were in the throes of liberation. In fact, the entire eastern Europe such as Poland, Hungary etc were new members to the EU. Thus at that time this region fell out of focus for us. In any case, we had our hands full covering the western side of the continent and it was from proximity reasons more accessible.

The intent is to chip away at these over time. As we are now based home in Singapore, the distance and effort to reach Europe has increased significantly. Perhaps one day there will be more direct transportation links. The world is shrinking (and melting) and it should not be long…

This page will be updated in June when we return from our trips in May.

May 2016