A Whistle Stop Tour of Europe

Moving out of the flat in France just two days earlier meant that inter-railing somewhat snuck up on us. Neither of us had even unpacked from the Year Abroad before re-packing for these few bonus weeks. On the morning train to the airport, we could not shake the feeling that this was just another necessary train journey. It did get a wee bit better, though…




The first thing we wanted to do in Berlin was to head to the historic Brandenburg Gate, the site at which I delivered the first of many historical lectures to my ever patient – and even sometimes interested – sweetheart of a travel companion. From there, we walked the short distance through the picturesque Tiergarten park onto the Reichstag, the German Parliament building, scene of lecture #2, and if Emma was despairing, there was a lot more of that in-store!

“Angie, you’ve got sugar all around your mouth, hun!”

Having begrudgingly broken my boycott of Starbucks on the promise of a delightfully refreshing fruit slush, my disappointment was soon replaced by intrigue as a crowd formed outside of a Dunkin’ Donuts, with police, the media, and assorted blokes with ear-pieces also loitering. Sure enough, within minutes, out strode Angela Merkel, “Big Ange”, looking as pleased as punch.

Anyway, back to being a tourist, if that doesn’t count. We then popped to Alexanderplatz and enjoyed a superbly simple currywurst, before taking the metro to the East Side Gallery. This mile-long stretch of the Berlin Wall is maintained as an open-air art gallery and is decorated with paintings depicting the feelings of change from around the time of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Similarly thought-provoking was the Berlin Wall Memorial, the top of which overlooks a segment of the once menacing wall and its chilling no man’s land.

Berlin, it seems, is a city filled with such haunting memory, but it should be commended for its admirable transparency and will to educate about, and thus avoid repetition of, the most horrifying episode in its history. The imposing installation at the Holocaust Memorial is certainly intimidating, and the letters sent home by the then soon-to-be victims of the tragedy are the most harrowing things I have ever read.


Prague was undoubtedly one of the closely-tied top three cities on this trip along with Vienna and Budapest, and it could not have been more different to Berlin. Surprisingly, given that the German capital had been one of the cities I was most excited to visit, I liked that this was so different. Turns out, olde-worlde really does it for me!

On our first amble from the hotel, we passed the marvellous Spanish Synagogue, and took one or two scenic detours before finally reaching the Old Town Square, home to the iconic Old Town Hall Astronomical Clock Tower and the very photogenic Church of Our Lady Before Týn. I don’t know how many times I walked into this square and thought, “I’ll have to take another photo of that. It can’t have looked that good last time”.

IMG_7436When in Prague, seek out the Hotel U Prince opposite the Astronomical Clock, and take the lift to the top for delicious, rooftop cocktails which, given the exquisite location, were very reasonably priced – enough even for us students to sample a fair few!

The following day, we walked up to Prague Castle, which is more of an estate than a castle. In fact, it’s probably several estates within which sits Saint Vitus Cathedral among a vast array of grandiose palaces, churches and art galleries, any one of which might well be the main attraction in a less illustrious city. After scouring the artisanal market and soaking in the gorgeous views of Prague from above, we headed for the stunningly eerie Charles Bridge before meandering home through the Old Town.


We’ve all been to cities with a handful of gems scattered across miles of ordinary cityscape – to an extent, that’s how I felt in Berlin – and that was how Vienna seemed in the beginning after first taking the metro from the shabby hotel to Saint Stephan’s Cathedral. The Austrian capital, however, is a resplendent expanse of consistently spectacular architecture, as we soon realised when we rounded a corner to find the intriguing Plague Column in the centre of a striking Viennese high street. In fact, it is the beauty of these everyday commercial building that leaves perhaps one of the greatest and most lasting impressions of the city. I’ll wager now that Vienna has the best looking H&M in the world!


The following day, we began at the Parliament Building, a majestic example of Greek Revival architecture to which the pathway was decorated with a series of allegorical statues of historically revered statesmen such as Tacitus, Xenophon, Caesar and, my hero and selfie-partner, the so-called “Father of History” himself, Herodotus of Halicarnassus. At the front, the Pallas-Athena, by showing her back to the building, is said to be rejecting the infighting hosted inside.

From there, we wandered to the spectacular City Hall, or Rathaus, and then onto the showcase Maria-Theresien-Platz with it’s opposing, and near identical, Natural History Museum and Art History Museum, the two separated by quaint gardens and a proud statue of Empress Maria Theresa, the last ruler of the once great Habsburg family dynasty. Finally, we enjoyed a walk around the tranquil gardens of Belvedere Palace. Unfortunately, we missed out on a visit to Schönbrunn Palace, but, as with Prague and, later, Budapest, we will return to Vienna.


The setting of the 1960s classic musical The Sound of Music, Salzburg is a small, pretty and peaceful city. Our stay began with a walk around Mirabellgarten, the picturesque house gardens from the film, apparently. From there, we explored the old town including all the regular hallmarks of such a quaint city: the central square, the city hall, the markets and, obviously, the Horse Baths.

Salzburg Cathedral was a particular highlight, even during the seemingly infinite procession of cathedrals that is European travel. IMG_7831The Sphaera, a huge art installation of a man atop a golden ball, and the giant chess set central in the courtyard, along with the backdrop of Salzburg Castle, added to the quirky beauty of this ideal day trip.

Finally, we took a very long, hot and less than enjoyable detour down, up, back and around to the scenic lakeside to take a peek at Schloss Leopoldskron, the grand chateau that played home to Fräulein Maria & Co. in the film.


The initial walk from our hotel to the Old Town took us, rather surprisingly past the grand Grassalkovich Palace and its earth-shaped fountain. Dubbed on TripAdvisor the “Slovakian White House”, the palace is home to the President of Slovakia, its fountain symbolising peace and freedom.IMG_7857 Slap bang in the middle of town, it is an unusual complex in that it’s surrounded by the bustling streets you’d expect to find in a modern capital.

The Old Town, ensconced behind the gateway of Saint Michael’s Bell Tower, is littered with kooky statues, such as Napoleon’s Soldier , Man At Work, and Schone Naci, alongside all of which you may – or may not – want a selfie. Saint Elisabeth’s is also worth a visit simply for the fact that, being bright blue, it is a very distinctive and endearing little church.


The highlight of the trip for me, edging slightly ahead of Vienna and then Prague, is the magnificent Budapest.

We stayed in an apartment just a 2-minute walk from the famous Chain Bridge, and headed across it on the first day, up the funicular (an uphill cable railcar) to Buda Castle. We wandered around to the stunning Matthias Church, and finished up at Fisherman’s Bastion, best likened to a giant sandcastle, where we enjoyed some cocktails as we overlooked the Danube and the city below.

parlamentIt was an early start on the second day for the single building I had been most excited for, Budapest’s incredible Parliament. Quite simply, this is my favourite building because of its sheer size as much as its enduring grandeur. Walking along the promenade to the Parliament, though, we also passed the prominent Shoes On The Danube Bank memorial to the victims of the Holocaust, a piercing reminder of the tragedy placed tactfully – and effectively – at the very heart of the city.

After lunch, we headed to Saint Stephen’s Basilica, before our much-anticipated visit to the world-famous Széchenyi Thermal Baths, which was certainly something different. On leaving, I immediately spotted a gyros vendor and, well, I was waiting for neither a finer eatery nor a second invitation. We wolfed down a gyros each – I definitely should have had two – and walked through the park to Heroes’ Square, where I was delighted to find not only a collection of statues to historic Hungarian heroes from across the ages, but also a number of references to my beloved Mongols (see here and here), after whom the returned King Béla IV, who had fled the invasion, set about the rebuilding of Hungary.

Tangent: after the Mongols defeated the Hungarians at the Battle of Mohi in 1241, King Béla IV and his men fled to the Dalmatian castles of Trogir and Klis, which we happened to have visited just last year. Incidentally, that defeat came on April 11th, – our anniversary. How romantic!

Anyway, from Heroes’ Square, we could hear music, and we followed it to Vajdahunyad Castle, outside of which there was a festival. Fortunately, the atrocious DJ was redeemed by the wealth of gorgeous, traditional food, drink and treats on offer.

ZAGREB Plitvice Lakes, CROATIA

After enjoying our final night in Budapest, we decided to pass on our reservations for the 6am train to Zagreb, instead leaving at lunchtime, and arriving around tea-time in Zagreb. As such, the Croatian capital effectively played the role of base camp for us as we headed out the following morning for a day trip excursion to Plitvice Lakes National Park.

lakes-and-walkway-at-plitvice-lakes-national-park-croatiaHaving visited the unparalleled Krka National Park during a trip along the Dalmatian Coast a year earlier, we were keen to experience it’s more popular cousin. It goes without saying that the lakes are stunning, and perhaps it is a result of our fortuitous exposure to lakes from living in the English Lake District, but we found it a little underwhelming in contrast to the magnificent Krka, though irrefutably beautiful. It was, of course, markedly hotter in the Croatian sun, but, in truth, we need not have travelled so many hours to see a poor imitation of what lies twenty minutes from our doors at home.


The Slovenian capital is a pretty, little city, though I was disbelieving about its capital status given that we had bypassed many of its top sights during the meagre ten minute walk from the train station to the hotel!

Panorama of Ljubljana, Slovenia, Europe.In terms of the city’s sights, Ljubljana Castle sits majestically atop its hill overlooking the city, and the Franciscan Church is rather striking in salmon pink. The Old Town is quaint and, like Bratislava, it has its fair share of quirky installations, if only to make up for the lack of more impressive sights. Perhaps overshadowed for us by one or two far more impressive locations earlier in our trip, Ljubljana was nevertheless lovely.


France’s Role in The Creation of Modern Europe

Analyse the role of France in the creation of modern-day Europe.

In the wake of the Second World War, France’s focus was fixed largely on preventing further wars with Germany. The Treaty of Versailles, in the aftermath of the First World War, had only served to render the German people bitter and hungry for revenge. As a result, France pursued instead a series of trade agreements with Germany, amongst other European countries, in an effort to tie them to a peaceful co-existence. It was hoped that a new French-dominated Europe could help to reinstate France’s pride and grandeur, following a period of decolonisation, by creating a ‘third way’[1] between the superpowers of the USA and USSR. A series of treaties followed, eventually culminating in the creation of the European Economic Community and ultimately, the modern European Union.

In light of her diminishing influence overseas as a result of decolonisation, France turned to Europe for trade, and moreover, to reassert her influence on the world stage. Arguably the first major step towards the envisaged French-dominated Europe, and indeed the Europe we see today, came in the form of the European Coal and Steel Community which was established by the Treaty of Paris in 1951. The ECSC was a supranational organisation made up of France, Germany, Italy and the Benelux countries, (collectively referred to as ‘The Six’), and it created a common market for coal and steel. It was first proposed by French statesman Jean Monnet and foreign minister Robert Schuman, whose aim was to, “make war not only unthinkable but materially impossible”[2], as coal and steel would be essential to any potential war effort. He also declared that the ECSC could be, “the first concrete foundation of a European federation indispensable to the preservation of peace”[3]. In this respect, it seems clear that it was a French desire to prevent war which was vital in the creation of the ECSC. Furthermore, as is highlighted in the second quotation, it seems that it was France, seeking to find her place as the dominant power in a new European bloc, which played a major role in taking the first step towards the Europe of today. However, the pooling of resources and the co-ordination of certain economies was actually a prerequisite of the European Recovery Program, or Marshall Aid[4]. Therefore, it could be argued that, although beneficial to and sculpted by France, the step was in fact taken out of necessity to comply with the demands of the US government. Ultimately, the community proved to be a success, not only in the long-term by preventing further war in Western Europe, but also in the short-term as Schuman and Monnet’s ECSC led to further treaties and deepening integration and co-operation to generate ₣5-6bn per year in trade with Germany[5].

A number of other pan-European organisations were formed around the same time as the European Coal and Steel Community. For example, the Organization for European Economic Co-operation to distribute American Marshall Aid was set up by the United States in 1948, and the Council of Europe was established in 1949 after Winston Churchill, for example, had called for its creation as early as 1943[6] and a “kind of United States of Europe” in a speech at the University of Zurich in 1946[7]. In this respect, it is important to note that whilst Monnet and France were at the forefront of efforts to create a federalised Europe, they were not alone in seeking increased integration. In the provision of Marshall Aid, the USA had formed the international bodies, which would, in turn, provide the framework for the European Free Trade Agreement, an alternative trade bloc for countries not in the European Economic Community. In other words, whilst France asserted herself as the major power in mainland Western Europe in this early post-war period, the eagerness for integration, either intergovernmental or supranational, was one shared with many other countries, both in Europe and overseas. The enthusiasm for co-operation and co-ordination is scarcely surprising as alliances and blocs had been being forged for centuries. In fact, they became increasingly common, and their unity increasingly fundamental, as many countries, including France, searched desperately for ways to avoid further war and recover rapidly to advance their own causes in post-war Europe.

In 1955, having resigned from the presidency of the ECSC’s High Authority, Monnet formed a pressure group, the Action Committee for the United States of Europe, to call on ‘The Six’ to expand upon the scope of the ECSC to include energy and transport. This, in turn, led to the creation of the European Economic Community (EEC) which was established by the Treaty of Rome in 1957, alongside the European Atomic Energy Community (EAEC/Euratom)[8]. It was here that the idea of intergovernmental co-operation was increasingly replaced by the delegation of powers to federal bodies. Of course, this centralisation is an integral part of today’s supranational European Union. The blueprint for modern Europe created by Monnet and Schuman does not end here, however. In fact, the European Commission of today derives from the European Coal and Steel Community’s High Authority[9], whilst today’s European Parliament has its roots in the European Parliamentary Assembly, of which Shuman was the first president in 1958[10]. Therefore, it seems that Monnet and Schuman’s legacy is that their vision for an integrated and unified Europe has been realised. Or, that these French statesmen are responsible for the sculpting of the Europe we know today.

Despite his belief in the European Communities’ ability to ensure peace in Europe, de Gaulle was firmly against the increasing supra-nationalism. The European Defence Community (EDC) had failed to be ratified by the French National Assembly on the grounds that an international army would threaten national sovereignty[11], and that the decision to put NATO’s Supreme Commander in charge of EDC operations would align Europe with the United States against the USSR[12], between whom de Gaulle had wanted to create a ‘third way’ to avoid involvement in the mounting tensions of the Cold War. In response to the EDC’s failure, de Gaulle proposed the Fouchet Plan in 1961 which offered an intergovernmental approach to preserve French influence and thus limit supra-nationalism. Ultimately, the plan failed as it was seen as a step back from integration by Germany and the Benelux countries. They also considered de Gaulle’s proposals for a common European foreign policy to be in direct and deliberate opposition to the directives of NATO, from which de Gaulle was withdrawing troops after a disagreement with the USA about France’s role within the organisation[13].

NATO had already impacted upon French influence over European foreign policy following it’s absorption of the Western Union’s Defence Organisation in 1950-51. Whilst the Western European Union, (as it was known following the ascension of Germany and Italy), promised mutual defence between its members, NATO sought primarily to protect against the spread of Soviet communism, which, as a threat, had replaced the prospect of a rearmed Germany. In this instance, it was the USA that had now begun to exert an element of influence over Europe – at the expense of France and others. Attempts by de Gaulle to later create a ‘third way’ were ultimately hampered by other European nations choosing American favour and support over foreign policies proposed by France.

Therefore, in a further move to limit the influence of the USA and NATO, and preserve French dominance in Europe, de Gaulle vetoed Britain’s ascension to the EEC in 1963 with his famous “non”. He cited Britain’s incompatible economy and conveyed a belief that the country would only act as a “Trojan Horse” for the USA in Europe[14]. He also rejected a second British application to the European Community (EC), as it had then become, in 1967, claiming European solidarity and again suggesting that sooner or later, Britain’s loyalties would be shown to lie not with Europe, but with NATO and the USA. In the pursuit of French grandeur, de Gaulle simply did not want another major power to rival France and lessen her influence in ‘his’ European Community. At the time, other countries in the EC were beginning to fight its French dominance, not only by rejecting the Fouchet Plan, but also by protesting the grossly imbalanced benefits France was receiving from the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). Ultimately, de Gaulle knew that British ascension may threaten the status quo in the EC at a time when he was stubbornly endeavouring to remain dominant, to prevent the encroachment of NATO, and to offer a ‘third way’ to sculpt for France the role of a major world power.

The French contribution to the creation of modern Europe, therefore, has not always been that of pro-active visionary action, as is shown in the “Empty Chair Crisis” of 1965-66. Reluctant to give up France’s favourable terms of the CAP, de Gaulle ordered his ministers to remain absent from the summit knowing that reform could not implemented without a unanimous decision. In response to this stubborn protectionism, majority votes replaced unanimity for most European Council decisions following the 1968 Luxembourg Compromise. Although in practice, the Council rarely made decisions without unanimity to ensure national ratification[15], it did render decision-making especially difficult. Some even refer to it as, “a second European constitution”[16], because, whilst the use of a majority vote is now more common, the Compromise is often seen as a step back from the idea that the Community would “transform itself into a fully-fledged state”[17], as many federalists envisaged.

The beginnings of the modern Franco-German dominance of the European Union are arguably found in the Elysée Treaty of 1963. In practice, this established regular summits between high-level officials of both France and Germany in which to consult on all important questions in an effort to achieve a common stance on foreign policy, cultural and youth affairs[18]. Often referred to as The Friendship Treaty, it was born out of good relations between French President, Charles de Gaulle and the German Chancellor, Konrad Adenauer and it sought to ensure close co-operation of the two countries moving forward. West Germany had rebuilt successfully, had been allowed to rearm and join NATO and was now emerging as an economic power which could soon rival France. This affiliation to agree a shared standpoint on future affairs has proved successful for both countries, to an extent, in ensuring that they are the two dominant powers within today’s European Union.

In conclusion, France played a major role in the forging of modern-day Europe. Firstly, French statesmen Jean Monnet and Robert Schuman are, for the most part, responsible for the logistical creation of the European Coal and Steel Community, despite its origins in the preconditions of France receiving Marshall Aid. The ECSC proved to be the foundation for a series of treaties to establish not only a common market, but also the principal pillars of the various integrated and federalised European institutions such as the European Commission and European Parliament which find their roots in the organisations formed through the vision of Monnet and Schuman to administer the ECSC. However, it is important to also consider that France was not alone in the pursuit of integration, co-operation and even federalisation with Winston Churchill of Britain and many other countries also enthusiastic for such co-ordination and unity. As the post-war years became the Cold War era, the influence of the USA and NATO began to lessen that of France within Europe, as the Community’s other nations opted for American protection over a French ‘third way’. Although it had little choice as the defeated force in the Second World War, Germany too has played a crucial role by peacefully rebuilding, and rising to become the dominant force in the EU today. Perhaps most importantly, France, through Monnet and the foundations laid by the ECSC, has ensured that Western Europe has remained peaceful – a remarkable achievement when placed in the context of the three German invasions of France in the eighty years before its inception.

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