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Europe

austriaAustria

The origins of modern-day Austria date back to the time of the Habsburg dynasty when the vast majority of the country was a part of the Holy Roman Empire. From the time of the Reformation, many Northern German princes, resenting the authority of the Emperor, used Protestantism as a flag of rebellion. The Thirty Years War, the influence of the Kingdom of Sweden and Kingdom of France, the rise of the Kingdom of Prussia, and the Napoleonic invasions all weakened the power of the Emperor in the North of Germany, but in the South, and in non-German areas of the Empire, the Emperor and Catholicism maintained control.

austriaIreland

There are three World Heritage Sites on the island: the Brú na Bóinne, Skellig Michael and the Giant’s Causeway. A number of other places are on the tentative list, for example the Burren, the Ceide Fields and Mount Stewart. Some of the most visited sites in Ireland include Bunratty Castle, the Rock of Cashel, the Cliffs of Moher, Holy Cross Abbey and Blarney Castle. Historically important monastic sites include Glendalough and Clonmacnoise, which are maintained as national monuments in the Republic of Ireland.

austriaItaly

Since classical times, Greeks, Etruscans and Celts have inhabited the south, centre and north of the Italian Peninsula respectively, with various Italic peoples dispersed throughout Italy alongside other ancient Italian tribes and Greek, Carthaginian, and Phoenician colonies. The Italic tribe known as the Latins formed the Roman Kingdom, which eventually spread throughout Italy, assimilating and conquering other nearby civilizations and forming the Roman Republic. Rome ultimately emerged as the dominant power, conquering much of the ancient world and becoming the leading cultural, political, and religious centre of Western civilisation.

austriaFrance

France became Europe’s dominant cultural, political, and military power under Louis XIV.[9] In the late 18th century, the French Revolution overthrew the absolute monarchy, established one of modern history’s earliest republics, and saw the drafting of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, which expresses the nation’s ideals to this day. Napoleon took power and launched the First French Empire, whose subsequent Napoleonic Wars shaped the course of continental Europe.

austriaGermany

Germany is a great power and has the world’s fourth-largest economy by nominal GDP, as well as the fifth-largest by PPP. As a global leader in several industrial and technological sectors, it is both the world’s third-largest exporter and importer of goods. Germany is a developed country with a very high standard of living sustained by a skilled and productive society. It upholds a social security and universal health care system, environmental protection and a tuition-free university education.

austriaBelgium

Straddling the cultural boundary between Germanic and Latin Europe, Belgium is home to two main linguistic groups: the Dutch-speaking, mostly Flemish community, which constitutes about 59% of the population, and the French-speaking, mostly Walloon population, which comprises 41% of all Belgians. Additionally, there is a small group of German-speakers who live in the East Cantons located around the High Fens area, and bordering Germany. Belgium is a federal constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary system of governance. It is divided into three regions and three communities, that exist next to each other. Its two largest regions are the Dutch-speaking region of Flanders in the north and the French-speaking southern region of Wallonia. The Brussels-Capital Region, officially bilingual, is a mostly French-speaking enclave within the Flemish Region. A German-speaking Community exists in eastern Wallonia. Belgium’s linguistic diversity and related political conflicts are reflected in its political history and complex system of government.

austriaCzech Republic

The Czech state was formed in the late 9th century as the Duchy of Bohemia under the Great Moravian Empire. After the fall of the Empire in 907, the centre of power transferred from Moravia to Bohemia under the Přemyslid dynasty. In 1004, the duchy was formally recognized as part of the Holy Roman Empire, becoming the Kingdom of Bohemia in 1198 and reaching its greatest territorial extent in the 14th century. Besides Bohemia itself, the king of Bohemia ruled the lands of the Bohemian Crown, he had a vote in the election of the Holy Roman Emperor, and Prague was the imperial seat in periods between the 14th and 17th century. In the Hussite wars of the 15th century driven by the Bohemian Reformation, the kingdom faced economic embargoes and defeated five crusades proclaimed by the leaders of the Roman Catholic Church.

austriaDenmark

The unified kingdom of Denmark emerged in the 10th century as a proficient seafaring nation in the struggle for control of the Baltic Sea. Denmark, Sweden and Norway were ruled together under the Kalmar Union, established in 1397 and ending with Swedish secession in 1523. Denmark and Norway remained under the same monarch until the union was dissolved by outside forces in 1814. The deterioration of the Kingdom of Norway, caused by the Black Death, made it possible for Denmark to inherit an expansive colonial empire from this union—of which the Faroe Islands and Greenland are remnants. Beginning in the 17th century, there were several cessions of territory; these culminated in the 1830s with a surge of nationalist movements, which were defeated in the 1864 Second Schleswig War. Denmark remained neutral during World War I. In April 1940, a German invasion saw brief military skirmishes while the Danish resistance movement was active from 1943 until the German surrender in May 1945. An industrialized exporter of agricultural produce in the second half of the 19th century, Denmark introduced social and labour-market reforms in the early 20th century that created the basis for the present welfare state model with a highly developed mixed economy.

austriaLuxembourg

It comprises two principal regions: the Oesling in the north as part of the Ardennes massif, and the Gutland (“Good Land”) in the south. With an area of 2,586 square kilometres (998 sq mi), it is one of the smallest sovereign states in Europe (about the same size as the state of Rhode Island or the English county of Northamptonshire). Luxembourg had a population of 524,853 in October 2012, ranking it the 8th least-populous country in Europe. As a representative democracy with a constitutional monarch, it is headed by a grand duke, Henri, Grand Duke of Luxembourg, and is the world’s only remaining grand duchy. Luxembourg is a developed country, with an advanced economy and the world’s highest GDP (PPP) per capita, according to the United Nations in 2014. Its central location has historically made it of great strategic importance to numerous powers, dating back to its founding as a Roman fortress, its hosting of a vital Frankish castle during the Early Middle Ages, and its role as a bastion for the Spanish Road between the 16th and 17th centuries.

austriaNetherlands

“Netherlands” literally means “lower countries”, influenced by its low land and flat geography, with only about 50% of its land exceeding one metre above sea level. Most of the areas below sea level are man-made. Since the late 16th century, large areas (polders) have been reclaimed from the sea and lakes, amounting to nearly 17% of the country’s current land mass. With a population density of 408 people per km2 – 500 if water is excluded – the Netherlands is a very densely populated country. Only Bangladesh, South Korea, and Taiwan have both a larger population and a higher population density. Nevertheless, the Netherlands is the world’s second-largest exporter of food and agricultural products, after the United States. This is partly due to the fertility of the soil and the mild climate. The Netherlands was the third country in the world to have an elected parliament, and since 1848 it has been governed as a parliamentary democracy and a constitutional monarchy, organised as a unitary state. The Netherlands has a long history of social tolerance and is generally regarded as a liberal country, having legalised abortion, prostitution and euthanasia, while maintaining a progressive drugs policy. In 2001, it became the world’s first country to legalise same-sex marriage.

austriaPortugal

The land within the borders of current Portugal has been continuously settled, invaded and fought over since prehistoric times. The Iberians, Celts, Phoenicians, Carthaginians and the Romans were followed by the invasions of the Visigothic and the Suebi Germanic peoples, who were themselves later invaded by the Moors. These Muslim peoples were eventually expelled during the Christian Reconquista. Portuguese nationality can be traced back to the creation of the First County of Portugal, in 868. In 1139, Afonso Henriques was proclaimed King of Portugal, thus firmly establishing Portuguese independence, under the Portuguese House of Burgundy. In the 15th and 16th centuries, under the House of Aviz, which took power following the 1383-85 Crisis, Portugal expanded Western influence and established the first global empire, becoming one of the world’s major economic, political and military powers. During this time, Portuguese explorers pioneered maritime exploration in the Age of Discovery, notably under royal patronage of Prince Henry the Navigator and King Manuel I, with such notable discoveries as Vasco da Gama’s sea route to India (1497–98), Pedro Álvares Cabral’s discovery of Brazil (1500), and Bartolomeu Dias’s reaching of the Cape of Good Hope. Portugal monopolized the spice trade during this time, under royal command of the Casa da Índia, and the Portuguese Empire expanded with military campaigns led in Asia, notably under Afonso de Albuquerque, who was known as the “Ceasar of the East”.

austriaSpain

Spanish territory includes two archipelagos: the Balearic Islands, in the Mediterranean Sea, and the Canary Islands, in the Atlantic Ocean off the African coast. It also includes two major exclaves, Ceuta and Melilla, in continental North Africa; and the islands and peñones (rocks) of Alborán, Alhucemas, Chafarinas and Vélez de la Gomera. With an area of 505,990 km2 (195,360 sq mi), Spain is the second largest country in Western Europe and the European Union, and the fourth largest country in Europe. By population, Spain is the sixth largest in Europe and the fifth in the European Union. Modern humans first arrived in the Iberian Peninsula around 35,000 years ago. Iberian cultures along with ancient Phoenician, Greek and Carthaginian settlements developed on the peninsula until it came under Roman rule around 200 BCE, after which the region was named Hispania. In the Middle Ages, the area was conquered by Germanic tribes and later by the Moors. Spain emerged as a unified country in the 15th century, following the marriage of the Catholic Monarchs and the completion of the centuries-long reconquest, or Reconquista, of the peninsula from the Moors in 1492. In the early modern period, Spain became one of history’s first global colonial empires, leaving a vast cultural and linguistic legacy that includes over 500 million Spanish speakers, making Spanish the world’s second most spoken first language, after Chinese and before English.

austriaSwitzerland

The establishment of the Swiss Confederation is traditionally dated to 1 August 1291, which is celebrated annually as the Swiss National Day. The country has a long history of armed neutrality—it has not been in a state of war internationally since 1815—and did not join the United Nations until 2002. Nevertheless, it pursues an active foreign policy and is frequently involved in peace-building processes around the world. In addition to being the birthplace of the Red Cross, Switzerland is home to numerous international organizations, including the second largest UN office. On the European level, it is a founding member of the European Free Trade Association, but notably it is not part of the European Union, nor the European Economic Area. However, the country does participate in the Schengen Area and the EU’s single market through a number of bilateral treaties. Straddling the intersection of Germanic and Romance Europe, Switzerland comprises four main linguistic and cultural regions: German, French, Italian and Romansh. Therefore, the Swiss, although predominantly German speaking, do not form a nation in the sense of a common ethnicity or language; rather, Switzerland’s strong sense of identity and community is founded on a common historical background, shared values such as federalism and direct democracy, and Alpine symbolism.

austriaSweden

Germanic peoples have inhabited Sweden since prehistoric times, emerging into history as the Geats/Götar and Swedes/Svear and constituting the sea peoples known as the Norsemen. Sweden emerged as an independent and unified country during the Middle Ages. In the 17th century, it expanded its territories to form the Swedish Empire, which became one of the great powers of Europe until the early 18th century. Swedish territories outside the Scandinavian Peninsula were gradually lost during the 18th and 19th centuries, beginning with the annexation of present-day Finland by Russia in 1809. The last war in which Sweden was directly involved was in 1814, when Norway was militarily forced into personal union. Since then, Sweden has been at peace, maintaining an official policy of neutrality in foreign affairs. The union with Norway was peacefully dissolved in 1905, leading to Sweden’s current borders. Though it was formally neutral through both world wars, Sweden engaged in humanitarian efforts, such as taking in refugees from German-occupied Europe. After the end of the Cold War, Sweden joined the European Union on 1 January 1995, but declined NATO membership.

austriaUnited Kingdom

Traveling through Europe has long been a popular pursuit for people of all ages, from students and couples, to families and retirees. The breadth of possible vacations in Europe is enormous, with countless destinations and all kinds of different ways of exploring them. Among the most popular countries in Europe for travelers are France, Italy, Spain, Germany, Greece, and Portugal, which are frequently on the itinerary of tour groups and cruise ships. They are popular for good reason. What trip to Europe would be complete without a stop at the Eiffel Tower, or a perhaps glimpse of the Colosseum or the Ancient Acropolis of Athens