To celebrate Europe Day we asked some of our staff to tell us about their favourite spots on the continent
We are all citizens of the world. Every single one of us. No matter by what fluke, accident, coincidence or happenstance you came into being, no matter which side of which arbitrary geographical line you happened to enter this life on, and no matter what beliefs were instilled into you before you were inquisitive enough to (hopefully) start asking questions, we are all bound by something much, much bigger.
Europe is going through a tough time at the moment. The lines that divide us seem to be getting increasingly wide, with anger, mistrust and fear being the results. Right-wing nationalism is rearing its venomous head again. Ed Sheeran is still making music.
So, for all these reasons, I decided to ask around the offices here at Kiwi.com to find out which places in Europe our employees absolutely adore. May the 9th is Europe Day, so let’s try and spread a bit of love for the place that Kiwi.com, for one, calls home.
Andorra la Vella, Andorra
“It’s a haven. It’s right in the sweet spot. In the summer it’s really hot, but in the winter you can ski!” This is Social Media Specialist, Carter, describing Andorra la Vella, the capital of the tiny principality of Andorra, high up in the Pyrenees. A bit of an oddity – they’re not a member of the European Union, but they do use the euro as currency – and with only two official border crossing points (one from France and one from Spain), you’d think the residents might be a little bit insular? “No way, not at all! The people are so nice! I slept at one guy’s place for free while I was travelling through. I kept trying to at least pay him something, but he just wouldn’t take it!” Carter reckons it seems to encompass the best of many worlds – climate, food, history and so forth – by being a mix of France and Spain while maintaining its Catalan history. “It’s actually strange that I found it. I think I must have entered illegally… I mean, I got there through some forest or something. I was passing from Catalonia and my Apple maps got… well… messed up!”
Someone who definitely isn’t lost is Radka, every time she visits Florence. “I went there for the first time with my Mum when I was 16,” she recalls. She loved it so much, when she went back for a second time with her school, she was basically an acting tour guide. “I love everything about the place. The history, of course, but the fact you’re also breathing in hundreds of years of culture, you know? Oh, and the ice-cream. I’ll never forget that. It costs two euros and there were maybe five different types all on top of each other!” She also got unwittingly involved in some street theatre when a performer selected her to play the part of the mother to a family of people he’d selected at random from the crowd. “At the end, I was let go, but only after my friends had taken hundreds of photos!” She actually has friends living there now, so will be back very soon. “You know, I’ve still never really been to the Medici Gallery [home to, among other works, Botticelli’s Birth of Venus]. But it’s just another reason to go back, right?!”
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For a more modern city, we have to head north to the Netherlands, and Rotterdam. A mixture of industry, commerce and shiny, modern skyscrapers, it was where a then-18-year-old Lukáš (now one of our Travel Consultants) found himself, when he and his mates got off the train there. They had friends in the city, but the idea was to stay in Rotterdam for a short time before heading to sample the – ahem – ‘headier’ delights of Amsterdam. “The railway station seemed to be some kind of skyscraper. You get there and you just can’t believe how big everything is.” He also says that even though the city doesn’t seem to have any particular central focal point – it’s very sprawly – it just means that every part has its own character, and there’s always something going on somewhere. “The other thing,” Lukáš smiles, “is that I had only just turned eighteen, you know? And I was amazed that there were small kids speaking amazing English already!”
Far more laid-back is Katka’s recommendation. Katka is a Project Manager, but when she was at university studied everything to do with the Baltic countries. Her favourite place in Europe in Nida in Lithuania, a beautiful town on a spit of land between the Baltic sea and the Curonian lagoon. “It’s one of the most beautiful beaches in Europe. The sea is pure blue with perfect sand. There are great pubs along the beach with cheap beer and fresh fruit. There’s a place that looks like a desert,” she says, eyes widening at the memory. “The sand shifts around the dunes and every year it seems like a different place. Oh, and there are witches in the forest!” Witches? What, real ones? “No! Well … Kind of. I mean that someone has made a lot of wooden sculptures of witches and placed them all around the forest nearby. You can rent a bike and explore, see what you can find.” Her lecturer at university initially told her about the place because of his love for the German writer Thomas Mann. Mann had a summer cottage there, up on a hillside overlooking the lagoon. It’s still there, the style echoing the many brightly painted wooden houses that stand along the seafront.
Finally, we turn south towards Ukraine and its capital, Kiev. For Kostya, his home town is still the most wonderful place he knows. “I lived there for 17 years, and even I am still surprised by how rich it is. Not just in terms of history, but in terms of culture and emotion. People think it might be like Prague or Vienna, but it really isn’t. You really have to visit to understand why people get so obsessed by it. The nightlife is amazing, there are many students …” He tails off, before looking thoughtful. “You know, I’ve travelled a lot, and I’m lucky to have been able to. Ukrainians often can’t. Financial reasons and, of course, politics at the moment.” For these reasons, Kostya says, Ukrainians often look for the gems in their own country. “People should go and see how modern it is as well. We had the European football championships; that was amazing, the final was in Kiev, and it was great to see so many people from everywhere. We want to integrate into Europe, and we’re trying very hard.” Suddenly, he smiles. “Kiev is like a huge painting, made by people just happily throwing buckets of colourful paint at it!”
A fine metaphor, I think.