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Europe

The ‘Forbidden City’ just outside Berlin

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The largest Red Army base outside the Soviet Union was a 40 minute drive south of Berlin. It was just beyond where the new airport — and the old Schönefeld SXF — is today. Wünsdorf-Waldstadt was completely off limits to East Germans during those long, dark Iron Curtain years. They called it Die Verbotene Stadt (the Forbidden City). Others called the massive base ‘Little Moscow’, and I guess it...

To The Lake: A Balkan Journey of War and Peace

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Kapka Kassabova is taking us back to the Balkans. I’ve been looking forward to something new from this wonderful writer since Border, which was my top travel read of 2018. That earlier book touched on the author’s childhood in Bulgaria, and To The Lake takes us deeper as she journeys to her grandmother’s place of origin in the mountainous Macedonian lake district. The region was once an important...

Hitler’s Scientists Put Men on the Moon

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The second-largest island on Germany’s Baltic Sea coast is a summer vacation paradise. But it once housed a massive secret weapons program that the Nazis hoped would allow them to snatch victory from the closing jaws of defeat. I made my annual summer pilgrimage to the island of Rügen last weekend — much later than usual in this year of pandemic, but it was still just warm enough to swim. The...

Loss and change in a post-pandemic world

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In my last blog, we talked about what the future of the European Union might look like in a post-pandemic world. I’d like to add a few more random predictions as we pull back the lens to consider the globe. In short, I think we’ll see a move towards de-globalization, where items deemed essential are manufactured ‘on shore’ rather than pieced together from parts sourced in China and other regions...

Will COVID-19 Break the European Union?

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In a previous blog, I promised to share my thoughts on the post-pandemic future of Europe, in particular for North American readers who may not be following developments on this side of the Atlantic. Travel’s off limits for the next several months, so we might as well talk about something. Here’s what it looks like to me as an outsider, and a long term resident and traveler. The Maastricht...

Berlin life in the time of COVID-19

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I’m not a disease expert by any stretch — though I have been sick in several third world shitholes. But it feels like anyone with any sort of public platform is expected to take a position on the COVID-19 pandemic. It certainly had a paralyzing impact on travel. In short: take it seriously. Expect it to last anywhere from several months to most of this year. And start preparing yourself for...

Picnics and Laughter in a Rhodope Mountain Glade

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We left the Pirin mountains the next day and entered the vast flat plain of the Maritza River Basin that connects Sofia to Plovdiv and opens out towards the Black Sea. The was the great path from Europe to the Levant. The road to Constantinople and Asia. The iron pipes of fountains gushed spring water from rocky hillsides where drivers stopped to fill their bottles. Nearby, the watermelons of...

Hiking Bulgaria’s Pirin Mountains

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It was time to move on to the Pirin Mountains, and the off-season ski resort of Bansko, where hotel suites went for bargain prices and half the restaurants were closed. The Thracians knew the Pirins as ‘Orbelus’ (‘snowy mountain’). The Slavs associated them with Perun, god of storms and thunder, the most powerful deity in their pantheon. To us, they promised some of the best hiking this side of...

Drifting Through The Crossroad of Empires

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The beginning of the journey didn’t bode well. Bulgaria Air was nearly two hours late. We eventually boarded an unmarked plane with ancient seats and the sort of old-style seatbelts I hadn’t seen in at least a decade. The in-flight magazines were dog eared and torn. One had a piece of chewing gum folded into it. The man on the cover — the CEO of an electronic payments transfer company — looked...

Wandering Prehistoric Worlds in the Azores

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I circumnavigated the eastern end of the island on minor roads that hugged the rugged north coast, stopping in rural villages that felt a world away from the tourist centres and busy bypass road above. I saw tractors working the fields, and in one village, a cheerful road crew laying down fresh tarmac. But otherwise it was just me and the cows. The coast eventually led me to Nordeste at Sao...

Ryan Murdock

Author of Vagabond Dreams: Road Wisdom from Central America. Editor-at-Large (Europe) for Canada's Outpost magazine. Columnist at The Shift. Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.

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