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October 15, 2008

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DAVID'S DEN                               The Europe Book



by David Zuchowski

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  • Book review: The Europe Book: A Journey Through Every Country on the Continent
    See Europe in one day ... and 256 pages.
    Review by Dave Zuchowski

    For its size, Europe, the second smallest continent after Australia, is surprisingly diverse. For one, the birthplace of Western civilization has the world's largest island (Greenland) and both the planet's smallest country (Vatican City) and the largest (Russia).

    Europe's small size, however, doesn't hamper it from giving birth to 52 nations and fostering a diverse range of cuisines, languages, cultures, art, architecture and terrains that span everything from sweltering beaches and semi-desert to permafrost, glaciers, volcanoes and hot springs.

    Europe is decidedly one continent worth visiting, preferably in person or, if your appetite for discovery is whetted for immediate gratification, by thumbing through the newly released coffee table book published by Lonely Planet Press, simply (and aptly) titled The Europe Book: A Journey Through Every Country on the Continent.

    This 256-page tome begins with essays on six suggested "Great Journeys", exotic excursions that let you explore themed junkets of various lengths. One of the authors suggests reliving the rite of passage of privileged young men, fashionable between the 16th and 18th centuries, in which they traveled the continent to study Renaissance art and antiquity.

    The journey begins in London, makes a stop in Paris, continues through Switzerland and ends in Italy with visits to museums and hot spots in Florence, Venice, Rome and Naples.

    Other tantalizing suggestions include jaunts through Scandinavia, Eastern Europe, Spain (along the pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela), the heart of Europe along the route traversed by the Orient Express, and the Aegean and Adriatic (a land and sea trek that starts in Split, Croatia and ends in Istanbul, Turkey.

    The meat of the book is made up of glorious color photographs, literally hundreds of them that capture the diversity of Europe's peoples, cultures, landscapes and eras. For sheer chronological contrast, Brussels' popular Atomium, a modern skyscraper made up of huge metal balls interconnected by a series of long tube-like appendages, is visually poles (and years) apart from the romantic ruins of Scotland's 15th century Kilchurn Castle, set along Loch Awe in Argyll. People-wise, the photos offer both drama in the form of a Lap herder playing tug of war with a reindeer against a bleak Arctic landscape as well as more sedate pictorials like the group of young punkers sitting enjoying a smoke in Riga, Latvia's Old Town.

    For those with a short attention span mixed with a thirst for knowledge and trivia, each country gets one- or two-paragraph write-up on topics like Lansdcape, History in a Nutshell, Cuisine, Future Directions and Random Facts. While skimming the book, I was surprised to learn that Macedonia's ruined prehistoric astronomical observatory of Kokino is, according to NASA, the world's fourth-most important site with ancient astronomical significance, after Stonehenge, Angkor Wat and Egypt's Abu Simbel.

    For those wanting more in the way of in-depth intellectual stimulation, the book explores quirky and modern Europe in four themed essays with titles like "Can They Do That in Public - Europe's Outrageous Landmarks," "Europe's Unrecognized Nations," "The New Europe" and "Revolutionary Ideas: Six That Changed History".

    To cover this relatively small but vibrant continent, Lonely Planet editors tap into the skills of 37 authors who seem to cover all bases, from the well-known, much-visited destinations like Rome's Coliseum and Grenada's 's Alhambra Palace to less familiar places like Poland's Bialowieza Forest, home to the endangered European bison, and the massive and graceful 500-year old Ottoman-built Mesi Bridge in Shkodra, Albania.

    While the book makes a great gift for those with a taste for travel, it might also be too difficult to give up once you've sat down and leafed through its captivating content yourself.

    The Europe Book: A Journey Through Every Country on the Continent, ISBN # 978-1-74104-733-2, is available online at Suggested retail price: $30.40.

    Dave Zuchowski has been writing about travel for twenty years and his articles have made the pages of many newspapers and magazines across the country, including AAA, Pathfinders, West Virginia Magazine, Southsider, and Westsylvania. Currently, he is the travel correspondent for the New Castle News, a daily in the Pittsburgh area. In his spare time, he also puts his horticultural interests to good use on his 15-acre farm located near Centerville, Pa.

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