5 Most Romantic Spots in Europe

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF TRIP TRIVIA)

 

5 Most Romantic Spots in Europe

Europe is made up of 50 fascinating countries, each of which has its own individual charm while also sharing similarities with its neighbors. From the heartland of two of the world’s greatest civilizations, to Mediterranean islands and mountainous regions, it is a continent of immense diversity. Its cities are often considered among the most romantic on the planet and visited year-round by couples and honeymooners. Here’s five spots to visit for when you want to add a touch of romance to your travels.

Amsterdam

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Rent a bike and explore the endless miles of canals that meander around the Dutch capital. Stop at a waterfront bar for lunch and admire a cityscape characterized by medieval merchant houses. At night, antique street lamps illuminate the cobblestone streets to create a fairytale-like setting. If biking sounds too energetic, consider renting a boat, or go one better by staying overnight on a houseboat. In summer, bring a picnic to Vondelpark and be sure to cross to quieter Amsterdam-Noord to hang out in the shadow of a windmill. Of course, there’s the coffee shops and a superb collection of museums to visit, too.

Budapest

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Budapest straddles the mighty Danube with magnificent works of architecture rising up on both sides of the river. Soak up the sights from one of the benches that line the embankment, traverse the zigzagging alleyways of Castle Hill and find a quiet spot to snuggle in the leafy grounds of the Citadella. After a busy day of sightseeing, you’ll want to indulge in some therapeutic treatments at thermal spas, such as Rudas Baths and Széchenyi Thermal Bath. Finish your evening with a champagne and sunset Danube cruise.

Florence

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Forget Rome and Venice and opt for this glorious city in the heart of Italy’s Tuscany region. Renaissance art and architecture give Florence an old-world charm like no other, and you can pass the time strolling hand in hand through the narrow lanes of the Centro Storico. Take breaks at pavement cafes and grab a gelato at a traditional ice cream parlor. Sit on the steps of Piazzale Michelangelo for exquisite views of the city, and don’t miss the sunsets on the Arno River. If you simply want to relax, head to the beautiful gardens of Giardino Bardini and Giardino di Boboli.

Mykonos

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From kicking back on secluded beaches during the daytime, to dinner and drinks at Little Venice, Mykonos is a dream come true for couples. Jump on a quad bike and feel the breeze in your hair as you travel the twisting, hilly roads to stunning beaches. Agios Sostis and Lia Beach are two of many perfect spots for sunbathing and swimming in crystalline waters. Dress up for some excellent photo opportunities in Little Venice, whose quaint whitewashed and blue houses could have been lifted straight from a movie set. Why not take a snorkeling tour and spot exotic fish together?

Vienna

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Once home to the House of Habsburg, Austria’s imperial capital has enchantment at the turn of every corner. With labyrinthine lanes, arcaded courtyards and grand palaces, the Old City is a wonderful place to amble aimlessly and discover hidden treasures. Ride a horse-drawn carriage between major attractions or see the city from the water on a Danube river cruise. Make sure to spend an evening at either the Burgtheater or Vienna State Opera. Smell the roses in springtime at Volksgarten and follow footpaths through Vienna Woods. December’s Christmas markets add another welcome dose of romance.

3 Best Road Trips in Europe

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF TRAVEL TRIVIA)

 

3 Best Road Trips in Europe

If you live in the United States, you probably tend to think of road trips as “an American thing.” When you were growing up, you and your family probably went on a road trip every summer to go camping or to a theme park in another state. It was a bonding experience full of traveling songs and car games and lots of chips and snacks. Road trips aren’t just for Americans, though. There are tons of great road trips to take in Europe too. Here are the top three.

Autobahn, Germany

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The Autobahn is legendary. It is one of the only roads on the planet that lets you go as fast as you want – or as fast as your car will let you. In non-residential areas, there is literally no speed limit, which can be quite a thrill, especially for those who hate getting stuck behind slow drivers here in the States. The Autobahn isn’t just a racetrack, though. It was built through some truly stunning parts of the German countryside, which allows you to catch a glimpse of some beautiful scenery as you speed on by. It is almost pretty enough to make you want to ease up on the accelerator… almost.

Amalfi Coast, Italy

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Italy is a gorgeous destination in general, but it can be difficult to navigate through most cities like Milan and Rome in a car. In fact, many of the big tourist cities in Italy are walking cities, and there are a lot of places where vehicles can’t go (or if they do go, they get stuck in traffic jams for hours). If you want to get away from the hustle and bustle in the northern cities, you can head out on a road trip along the Amalfi Coast. Southern Italy is much less crowded than the north, and it is full of natural wonders like mountains, forests, beaches and grassy hills. A road trip along the Amalfi Coast will let you see all that nature, plus it will take you through towns that are much the same as they were hundreds of years ago. You can stop off and try the local food at the restaurants you pass along the way, and you can get a taste of the culture as you pass by the ornate cathedrals, statues and other buildings that have been standing tall and proud for centuries.

Bucharest, Romania to Vienna, Austria

Credit: S.Borisov/Shutterstock

Many people don’t realize just how close the countries in Europe are to each other. You don’t have to take a plane or a train to go from Romania to Austria. You can take a road trip in a rental car and see all the amazing sights along the way. Starting in Bucharest, you can travel north through the Carpathian mountain range to Transylvania – yes, the Transylvania. Here you can visit the actual castle that was said to be home to Dracula himself. Next, get onto the Transfagarasan mountain road, “one of the most incredibly beautiful routes in the world.” It will take you through numerous ancient cities full of historical castles and into Budapest, where you can visit actual Roman baths before heading onto Vienna, which has some amazing, unique architecture in its own right.

Anywhere America Steps Back: China’s Communist Government Steps Forward

 

THE WEEKEND ROUNDUP 

A new rift in world affairs appears to be opening up: a division between pro-globalization Asia, with China in the lead, and the transatlantic nations that have turned against globalization.

“President Xi’s appearance at the World Economic Forum in Davos next week,” I write in a blog post this week, “comes at both an auspicious and inauspicious moment. It is an auspicious moment because President-elect Donald Trump has all but announced America’s withdrawal from the world it has largely made over recent decades — and from which Asia has most benefited.” Since Europe has become inwardly absorbed with anxieties over terror attacks, immigration and failed integration, I continue, “that leaves China as the one major power with a global outlook. Ready or not, China has become the de facto world leader seeking to maintain an open global economy and battle climate change. In effect, President Xi has become the ‘core leader’ of globalization.”

“The inauspicious aspect is the reverse,” I go on to say. “The general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party is speaking to the converted from the pulpit in the foremost church of the global elite that gathers annually in Davos. Aligning with the global business elites in such a high profile manner places China even more squarely in the negative sights of the populist wave sweeping the Western democracies. It affirms in their minds that China is the main enemy of the working and middle class in the West.” China’s increasing show of force in the South China Sea this week in response to what it sees as provocations by the incoming U.S. administration also does it little favor in Western eyes.

Alexis Crow makes the counter-case that globalization continues to be beneficial to the West, saying trade is closely correlated with economic growth. “Increased wages in Southeast Asia boost demand for goods from new economy sectors in the West,” she writes. She also notes, as a case in point, how Chinese investment is creating thousands of jobs in Ohio.

Writing from Vladivostok, Artyom Lukin wonders how heightening conflict with China, as Trump tilts toward a closer embrace of Moscow, will play out. “Given Trump’s obvious hostility to China and his friendliness to Russia,” he writes, “Moscow may move into the apex spot of the triangle, having better relations with Beijing and Washington than they have with each other.” As Lukin sees it, Russian President Vladimir Putin may well seek to, “position himself as a sort of mediator between Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping.”

Based on his experiences with Putin, Alexey Kovalev offers some advice as a Russian journalist to his American colleagues who this week faced their first press conference with Donald Trump. “Facts don’t matter. You can’t hurt this man with facts or reason. He’ll always outmaneuver you. He’ll always wriggle out of whatever carefully crafted verbal trap you lay for him. Whatever he says, you won’t be able to challenge him.” He welcomes his American colleagues to “the era of bullshit.” Fearing this is only the beginning of what’s to come in the battle between Trump and the press, Howard Fineman writes, “It’s not a video game. It’s Washington in the Trump era, and we’ve just seen an unsettling preview.”

Many Africans are also wondering how a Trump presidency that is hostile to China will unfold for them. As Eric Olander and Cobus van Staden report, while America’s role in the world is growing uncertain, China is becoming more predictably favorable. As the year opened, China outlawed its domestic ivory trade and Foreign Minister Wang Yi is making a visit to Africa his first overseas trip of the year. China has also committed $60 billion in financing for African projects.

Writing from Singapore, Parag Khanna takes another tack entirely, suggesting that an America caught up in the turmoil of a populist backlash might learn a thing or two not only from other successful states like Germany, but from China as well. America, Khanna observes, “is caught in a hapless cycle of flip-flopping parties and policies while overall national welfare stagnates. Populism has prevailed over pragmatism.” He further remarks that, even in the West, there is grudging admiration for, “China’s ability to get things done without perpetual factionalism holding up national priorities, such as infrastructure.”

The populist drift in both the U.S. and Europe deeply concerns the Human Rights Watch organization, Nick Visser reports. “They scapegoat refugees, immigrant communities, and minorities. Truth is a frequent casualty,” he cites the watchdog’s director, Kenneth Roth, as saying. Nick Robins-Early looks at the trend of populism in Europe, noting that this year will be a test for the far-right, specifically in France, Germany and The Netherlands.

Writing from New Delhi, Swati Chaturvedi fears the consequences of the anti-Muslim and anti-woman hate speech that seems part and parcel of a Hindu brand of populism taking hold in India today. “Trolls,” she says, “are the goons of the online world. … lies and violent words can have deadly consequences in the real world.”

In an interview, former Iranian President Abolhassan Bani-Sadr sees opportunity for the regime in a Trump presidency where others see only trouble. “Khamenei’s supporters believe not only that Trump will maintain the Vienna nuclear agreement,” he says, “but also that his policies in Syria and the Middle East will maintain the interests of the regime.”

Tom Wheeler, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, also has a positive spin on the negativity surrounding President-elect Trump. He thinks Americans are more than capable of rising to disruptive challenges of new technologies behind so much political anxiety today. Wheeler argues that the slogan “‘Make America Great Again’ became a surrogate for ‘Make me secure again amidst all this change.’ Great swaths of the electorate sought stability in a world where everything seemed to be changing.” Wheeler reminds his fellow Americans that they’ve been here before: “Like today,” he says, “the technology revolution of the 19th century produced a longing for stability. But instead of retreating, Americans pushed forward to build a new security around new concepts. Universal education, employee rights, governmental offsets to abusive market power and other initiatives targeted the new problems. The result was the good old days many now long for.”

Writing from Geneva, Richard Baldwin sees a double blow to the labor market – in both rich and poor countries ― of both offshoring and robots. “Rapid advances in computing power and communication technology,” he contends, “will make it economical for many more people to work remotely across borders.” As medical costs rise in the rich countries, for example, Baldwin expects to see more and more “telesurgery” where the patient and doctor are divided by hundreds of miles.

In this world so afflicted by hatred and violence, Turkish novelist Kaya Genc also sees a way to unite amidst division, finding beauty and peace in the quotidian event of a winter snowfall. “Snow saved Istanbul,” he writes this week from his beloved hometown on the shores of the Bosphorous. “As flakes fell from the sky, the city was relieved of its status as the new destination of international terror. … There was a hint of something chilling in the air, and I felt relieved that it was not man-made.” 

Iran to work on nuclear-powered marine vessels after U.S. ‘violation’ of deal

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF REUTERS NEWS)

Iran to work on nuclear-powered marine vessels after U.S. ‘violation’ of deal

By Bozorgmehr Sharafedin and Shadia Nasralla | BEIRUT/VIENNA

Iran ordered its scientists on Tuesday to start developing systems for nuclear-powered marine vessels in response to what it calls a U.S. violation of its landmark 2015 atomic deal with world powers.

Nuclear experts however said that President Hassan Rouhani’s move, if carried out, would probably require Iran to enrich uranium to a fissile purity above the maximum level set by the nuclear deal to allay fears of Tehran building an atomic bomb.

Rouhani’s announcement marked Tehran’s first concrete reaction to a decision by the U.S. Congress last month to extend some sanctions on Tehran that would also make it easier to reimpose others lifted under the nuclear pact.

Rouhani described the technology as a “nuclear propeller to be used in marine transportation,” but did not say whether that meant just ships or possibly also submarines. Iran said in 2012 that it was working on its first nuclear-powered sub. reut.rs/2gVr80g

Rouhani’s words will stoke tensions with Washington, already heightened by U.S. President-elect Donald Trump’s vow to scrap the deal, under which Iran curbed its nuclear fuel production activities in exchange for relief from economic sanctions.

Rouhani also ordered planning for production of fuel for nuclear-powered marine vessels “in line with the development of a peaceful nuclear program of Iran”.

But under the nuclear settlement Iran reached with the United States, France, Germany, Britain, Russia and China, it is not allowed to enrich uranium above a 3.67 percent purity for 15 years, a level unlikely to be enough to run such vessels.

“On the basis of international experience, were Iran to go ahead with such a (nuclear propulsion) project, it would have to increase its enrichment level,” said Mark Hibbs, nuclear expert and senior fellow at Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

CIVILIAN VERSUS MILITARY ENRICHMENT

“That’s the point, because Iran would be looking for a non-weapons rationale to provocatively increase its enrichment level in the case that the deal with the powers comes unstuck.”

He pointed out that countries with more advanced navies and nuclear programs have been working on propulsion reactors for decades. Such technology might need uranium enriched to around 20 percent purity.

A Russian Foreign Ministry source told RIA news agency that a careful reading of Rouhani’s order showed he was talking only about developing power-supply units for nuclear-powered marine vessels, but not higher-enriched uranium itself, so “strictly speaking” this would not contravene the nuclear deal.

But the source acknowledged that such vessels typically ran on higher-enriched uranium prohibited by the accord.

Edwin Lyman, a nuclear expert at the Washington-based Union of Concerned Scientists, said developing a reactor suited for higher-grade nuclear vessel fuel would take at least a decade.

“(But) these are unfortunate developments. We are very concerned about the future of the (nuclear deal) under the Trump administration and any signs of erosion … must be taken very seriously and immediately addressed by the international community,” Lyman told Reuters.

Rouhani accused the United States in a letter published by state news agency IRNA of not fully meeting its commitments under the nuclear deal.

“With regard to recent (U.S. congressional) legislation to extend the Iran Sanctions Act … I order the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran to … plan the design and construction of a nuclear propeller to be used in marine transportation.”

Members of the U.S. Congress have said the extension of the bill does not violate the nuclear deal that was struck last year to assuage Western fears that Iran was working to develop a nuclear bomb. The act, Congress added, only gave Washington the power to reimpose sanctions on Iran if it violated the pact.

Washington says it has lifted all the sanctions it needs to under the July 2015 deal between major powers and Iran.

Rouhani’s move followed recent remarks by Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and his hardline allies harshly criticizing the deal’s failure to yield any swift economic improvements in Iran. Khamenei said last month the U.S. Congress’s prolongation of some sanctions was a clear breach and the Islamic Republic would “definitely react to it”.

There was no immediate comment from the Vienna-based U.N. nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, which monitors Iran’s nuclear program.

(Additional reporting by Alexander Winning in Moscow and Parisa Hafezi in Ankara; editing by Mark Heinrich)

The History Of Man Is The History Of War: Battle Of Thermopylae 267 A.D.

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF ‘REALM OF HISTORY’)

The Other Ancient ‘Battle Of Thermopylae’ Pitted The Greeks Against The Invading Goths

Other_Battle_Of_Thermopylae_Roman_Greeks_vs_Goths_1

The Battle of Thermopylae in 480 BC has long thrived in the realm of pop culture with supposedly 300 chiseled Spartans defending against a horde of barbarous Persian troops. The reality was obviously different from this nigh idealistic presentation on the Western side, with the Greeks actually having around 7,000 men (according to modern estimates) – who nevertheless still managed to hold off a significantly larger Persian army (as in an ‘organized army’, not ‘horde’), thus securing a strategic victory by incurring a tactical loss. But as it turns out, there was another Battle of Thermopylae about 750 years later, and that time around it brought forth the Greek defenders (under Roman rule) against the rampaging Goths (an East Germanic people from late antiquity). The seemingly inconspicuous episode of history (in 250-260 AD) was originally documented in an ancient Greek text written in the 3rd century AD by an Athenian writer named Dexippus. But the text fragments the historians came across (and analysed) are dated from the medieval 11th century AD, and thus thought to be the copies made of the far older and original text.

In any case, the researchers made of spectral imaging to assess these fragments in question, thus allowing them to be comprehensible for the most part. And one of these fragments was successfully translated by a duo of lecturers – Christopher Mallan of Oxford University, and Caillan Davenport of the University of Queensland. Like in the case of the poignant letter written by a Roman legionary 1,800-years ago, this read is also quite engaging with talks of battle columns of the ‘barbarian’ Goths and Greek troops rushing forth to their defensive positions at the famed narrow pass of Thermopylae.

One of the mentioned incidents starts off with an Goth assault on the city of Thessalonica. As Dexippus wrote –

Making an assault upon the city of the Thessalonians, they tried to capture it as a close-packed band. Those on the walls defended themselves valiantly, warding off the battle columns with the assistance of many hands.

Suffice it to say that the assault was probably unsuccessful on the part of the Goths. Hence they made their move further south towards Athens. Dexippus gave his ‘reasoning’ behind such a desperate maneuver –

…envisioning the gold and silver votive offerings and the many processional goods in the Greek sanctuaries, for they learned that the region was exceedingly wealthy in this respect.

But learning of the enemy movements, the rag-tag Greeks (with a presumably sizable militia) arrayed themselves along the narrow pass of Thermopylae. Dexippus wrote –

Some [of the Greeks] carried small spears, others axes, others wooden pikes overlaid with bronze and with iron tips, or whatever each man could arm himself with. When they came together, they completely fortified the perimeter wall and devoted themselves to its protection with haste.

Interestingly enough, Dexippus also mentions the name of the Greek commander – a general named Marianus. This particular figure supposedly gave a rousing speech to his troops harking back to the past exploits of their ancestors at the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 BC.

O Greeks, the occasion of our preservation for which you are assembled and the land in which you have been deployed are both truly fitting to evoke the memory of virtuous deeds. For your ancestors, fighting in this place in former times, did not let Greece down and deprive it of its free state. In previous attacks, you seemed terrifying to the enemies. On account of these things, future events do not appear to me not without hope…

But like any literary cliffhanger, the fragment ends rather unceremoniously, and thus historians are still not sure about the outcome of the seemingly momentous battle. And since we are talking about a literary piece, the speech could have been an invention of the writer himself. To that end, there are other fragments written by Dexippus and the first of them was translated in German in 2014, by Gunther Martin and Jana Grusková, researchers at the University of Bern and Comenius University in Bratislava, respectively. There are also complementary English articles published by the same researchers regarding the fragments – and the overarching narrative seems to suggest that the Roman Emperor Decius (who lived from 201-251 AD) tried to repel the Goths from Greece. But he was probably unsuccessful in his endeavor, by losing both men and territories to the invading enemy.

And intriguingly, this Decius character also supposedly made a morale-boosting speech; but again it could have been invented by Dexippus himself –

Men, I wish the military force and all the provincial territory were in a good condition and not humiliated by the enemy. But since the incidents of human life bring manifold sufferings…it is the duty of prudent men to accept what happens and not to lose their spirit, nor become weak.

Lastly, it should be noted that historically there was possibly yet another ancient ‘Battle of Thermopylae’ in 267 AD when the Heruli (another East Germanic tribe) successfully invaded the Balkans. But a major part of their ‘mixed-band ‘forces (comprising fellow Goths and possibly allied Gepids) was annihilated at the Battle of Naissus two years later by the Eastern Roman troops commanded by Claudius II, who was later given the epithet of ‘Gothicus’.

Other_Battle_Of_Thermopylae_Roman_Greeks_vs_Goths_2

Spectral imaging used for deciphering the fragment. Credit: Vienna, Austrian National Library.