Watery thoroughfares – The main rivers of Europe

27 March, 2007

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It is a historical fact that civilizations have prospered not in isolation but in collaboration with others. And during ancient times, most of this collaboration took place along the rivers, where many such civilizations not only existed but also flourished.

Like in other parts of the world, Europe too, has its fair share of rivers.

Some of the main rivers of the continent are listed below.

Volga River (Russia) – One of the longest rivers of Europe as well as Russia, where it originates and flows.

Danube – Originating in Black Forest in Germany, it flows downward through Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Romania, Moldova and Ukraine. It is Europe’s second longest river.

Dnieper River – Another major European or more accurately, East European river is the Dnieper. Starting in Russia, it flows through Belarus and then Ukraine, before emptying itself in the Black Sea.

Rhine – Originating in the Netherlands, it flows through Germany and parts of France. At certain locations it also forms the border between the two nations. It is divided into Upper Rhine and Lower Rhine.

Elbe – One of the major waterways of Central Europe, River Elbe originates in Czech Republic and flows through much of Germany before draining in the North Sea.

Vistula – It is Poland’s longest river with over 1,000 kms of length. Though, it mostly flows through Poland, it’s drainage basin includes neighbouring Ukraine, Belarus and Slovakia.

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Hot springs of Iceland

27 March, 2007

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Iceland is a land of contrasts. On one hand it is covered with glaciers and on the other, it has hot springs gushing out of volcanic rocks.

Hot springs or Geysers, as they are commonly called, are springs of water that spouts either steam or hot water through openings in the ground. Basically, these are caused when seeping water meets molten rock deep underground.

Such hot springs only occur where there is either a volcanic activity coupled with underground flowing water. Of the 1000 or so natural geysers in the world, half of them are in the Yellowstone Natural Park in the United States.

The Great Geysir in Haukadalur Valley, in Iceland is one of the many existing in the country and is also the world’s oldest in existence today.

The other Icelandic geysers are, the Strokkur geysir and Litli geysir. Both are located in close proximity to the Great Geysir.


The Little Mermaid at Copenhagen Harbour

27 March, 2007

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Who hasn’t read the fairy tale of a young mermaid, who, in deep love with a prince, was willing to give up everything just to gain an eternal soul. Ever since, the tale, ‘Little Mermaid’, was first published, in 1836, it has captured the imagination of children, the world over.

Written by Dane Hans Christian Anderson, the national writer of Denmark, Little Mermaid, along with his other writings such as the Ugly Duckling, and the Emperor’s New Clothes have become part of our popular culture, universally. These now constitute an integral part of every child’s growing up.

Portrayed in many visual forms, but the best portrayal accorded to the sweet little mermaid is in the form of her statue created at the Copenhagen Harbour.

Unveiled in 1913, it was commissioned by Carl Jacobsen, a local businessmen, who after enjoying a ballet based on the fairytale, decided to fund it. The statue is imposed on a round rock, and is 1.25 meters high and weighs about 175 kg.

Though, the statue is that of a mermaid out looking towards the entrance to the port, the model for the girl was Eline Eriksen, wife of sculptor, Edward Eriksen.


Balmoral Castle – The Royal Summer Residence

27 March, 2007

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As long as she was alive Balmoral Castle was Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother’s one of favourite residences. For half a year, she would quietly spend her days, away from the public glare, keeping to herself, and not interfering in any of her families’ matters. Many a days, she would be at the Birkhall Mansion, also part of Balmoral Estate.

Balmoral Castle has long been a favourite haunt of whoever has possessed it. Before it came into the British Royal Family’s possession, it was owned by families of various Earls and nobles of the area.

It came into the royal family’s possession in 1848 when it was leased by Prince Albert for his wife, Queen Victoria. Four years later, he purchased it. The Queen Consort then completely rebuilt the 15th century castle and extended it to include many new structures. His subsequent successors added more structure to it.

Along with Sandringham House, in Norfolk, England, Balmoral Castle is a privately owned family residence of the Royal Family and not part of the official Royal Estate. The Queen herself takes a keen interest in its management and employees some 50 full-time and an equal number part-time staff.


Black Forest: A magical timberland

27 March, 2007

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Made famous, among others, by Grim Brothers as their main setting for many of their fairy tales, the Black Forest in southwestern Germany is more than just a piece of wooded real estate. It has a lot of cultural significance as well.

Though, not sure exactly why it is called ‘Black’ Forest, but one reason could be due to the blackish view the one is affronted when looking over the tree-tops. It seems like that a giant has covered all the trees with a huge black cloak.

More than just a hunting ground for the locals, the forest has been a major source of tourist revenue as well. In fact, some 12 local counties bordering it, is depended on it. The area around the forest is also known for its clock-making tradition, which also dates back to ancient times.

Another popular legend attached to it, is that of the popular Black Forest cakes and tarts, that are enjoyed with feverish delight in many parts of the world, including ours.

Recently, the forest again shared the limelight, when it was ‘revealed’ as the source of wood for the flying brooms used in the Harry Porter series. Many of which were used in the competitive Qiddich games.


Mount Elbrus – Europe’s highest peak

26 March, 2007

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A dormant volcano situated in the Western Caucasus Mountains of Russia, close to the state of Georgia, has the distinction of being Europe’s highest peak.

Mount Elbrus, whose one peak, amongst two, is 18,510 feet, makes it the continent’s highest peak, only if and till, this area of Caucasus is considered as the border between the continents Europe and Asia.

Apart from the contention, the dormant volcano is also famous for mythically reason. According to legend it was here that King God, Zeus, chained Prometheus the junior God, for stealing fire from heavens and gifting it to mankind. This is a reference to the active volcano in early times.

For visitors, especially for non-hikers, there is a cable car system that can take the visitors to an height of 3,800 meters. From there on, there is a straight way up to the summit, which is also free of any crevasses.

Though the climb to the top is not technically difficult but a bit ardous due to strong cold winds, and the elavations.


Andorra la Vella: A tax-haven’s capital

26 March, 2007

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This principle city of the small principality of Andorra, which is sandwiched between France in the north, and Spain to the south, a quite a tourist attraction, but for other reasons.

Though, Andorra’s principle industry is tourism, but it earns a decent amount of foreign exchange, also by being one of the few tax havens in the world.

Tax havens usually are countries where certain taxes are levied at low rates or even not at all. Thus, a lot of companies and even wealthy people get themselves registered at such places, so as to escape from the tax-net that many countries impose on them.

Apart from being the above-mentioned distinction, Andorra la Vella is also quite rich in history, culture and architecture.

Although, the city’s known existence dates back to 1278 as many of its streets and buildings would testify, the state of Andorra was in existence from as early as eight century AD.

According to history, the state was created by Charlemagne, as a buffer zone to protect his empire from the invading moors of the Iberian Peninsula.