Vacation Time?

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Big Ben and Westminster seem small enough without the Eiffel Tower towering in the background.

While the rest of the world seems to be paused, in some ways I am busier than ever. Which has me daydreaming about getting away from it all. 

Remember when we could travel to places we wanted to visit? It seems like forever ago, not earlier this year. Back in January I didn’t own a mask, and never imagined wearing one would be required before I could enter a grocery store.

Since we can’t travel the way we want, I thought maybe we should all take a European getaway the next couple of days, just to remind us of what we are missing. Today’s post originally ran in September 2014 and was one of the first ones published here.    

I will admit I went under protest. I couldn’t see the point of spending good money to see scale models of European landmarks. But my wife was insistent, and because we were also going to the Atomium, which is right next door in suburban Brussels, we got a couple of Euros off the admission price at Mini-Europe.

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The Leaning Tower in Pisa, Italy, looks a lot more likely to topple than this model.

In theory it’s a clever idea: detailed replicas of European monuments and buildings, something from every country in the European Union. The actual experience I found underwhelming.

No matter how intricate the scale model, and some were very intricate, costing close to a million dollars, it was nowhere near like the real thing. A miniature Eiffel Tower lacks the beauty of the original. You don’t get a sense of the age of the Parthenon from a copy. The miniature Vesuvius didn’t scare me – I just laughed.

If some people didn’t like margarine they wouldn’t make it. Mini-Europe is margarine – I much prefer butter.

However, the couple of hours spent wandering around the site did get me to thinking about European disparity. Every EU nation had at least one building or monument to represent it. The guidebook (which doesn’t seem to have made it back to Canada with me, so I am working from memory here) had an entry for each nation with some political, demographic and economic information. What I found most interesting was the rating given to each country according to an economic index, which as I understood it, took the Gross Domestic Product (or something like that) of all EU countries and divided it by 28. That median they designated as 100. The guidebook showed where each EU country stood in relation to that number.

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This one’s the real deal.

That would be useful to know if I was considering a move to Europe, though that one number does not tell the whole story of economic activity and quality of life. Luxembourg as I recall was best off, listed at 128, while Bulgaria was poorest at 44. To me that seems like a pretty significant gap, destined to engender a certain amount of resentment. I wondered how the people at the lower end of the scale feel about the affluence of the countries at the top. As I remember it, those with the lowest numbers were all former Soviet territories, once again showing just how large the gap was between capitalist and Communist economies, a gap that remains significant.

Our visit to the European Parliament left me with some reservations about the EU as a governmental agency (and I will deal with that in a future post). It seems to me that the EU Parliament meddles in a lot of areas that I would have thought were or should be national jurisdiction. But the people of those countries on the bottom end of the economic scale may not mind if their government surrenders a portion of its authority to some nameless and faceless bureaucrats in Brussels. They might hope those outsiders will do a better job than their local politicians have. And I understand there is the possibility that Brussels knows best, but I doubt that is really the case.

I have a suspicion that Mini-Europe is more geared to children than adults; I might have enjoyed it more if I was a pre-teen there on a school outing, using some of the educational tools the park makes available to teachers.

Despite my reservations, I will admit that Mini Europe does provide a reminder of the richness of European culture. There are a lot of places in Europe that I have not yet had the opportunity to visit. All I need to do now is find the time, and the money.

In the six years since I visited Mini-Europe I have had the opportunity to see some sights (such as the Parthenon) that I hadn’t been to before. My assessment is unchanged – though these days any tourist attraction is a welcome sight!

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