In the past ten years my wife and I have made five trips across the Atlantic to European or Middle East destinations. We are just back from Spain, the thirteenth European country we have visited.
One might ask what I find so compelling about Europe. Well, as a serious amateur photographer interested in architectural photography there is no better place to go. One certainly does not have to travel to Europe to find good architectural subjects, but the diversity and "old world" look found there is pretty hard to find elsewhere in my opinion. In my travels I have found each country visited to be unique in what it offers in architectural style. There are also fantastic opportunities for landscape photography as well; it's just that I've found myself mostly in urban environments where architecture and "street" photography is the "target of opportunity". In terms of landscape photography I tend to think the western United States and Canada the place to be, but when it comes to architecture I favor Europe.
Photography aside, travel is a wonderful opportunity to expand one's cultural perspective. Growing up my generation was led to believe that the United States is first in everything. Well, I long ago put that myth to rest. Yes, we lead the world in many things. This is a fantastic nation and we are most blessed to live here, but we can learn much from others and foolish to think we have all the answers; it is simply arrogant to dismiss the rest of the world as irrelevant.
So, what of Spain? Well, for one thing it is one of the more economical countries we have travelled in for quite some time. The Euro vs. the dollar is very favorable right now which may be the main factor. But I don't get the impression that Spain has had the volume of tourists that countries like Italy, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom have experienced. Consequently prices are perhaps a bit more reasonable than other destinations. This is possibly in process of changing though. Tourists have found Spain and several tour companies are operating there now. If you hanker to see this country I wouldn't put it off too long. It was also noted that Spaniards are not as proficient in the English language as many other Europeans are, possibly because of the above. We found few who could speak English, but it is true their English by and large is better than our Spanish! But this should not be a deterrence; one can get by. Otherwise Spain is a vibrant, modern country. In some respects their infrastructure exceeds ours'. Roads, for instance, are far better in Spain than in the United States, and I think I can make this statement with some degree of knowledge. Having travelled the breadth and width of North Anerica by motorhome the past ten years I can safely say roads in the United States are by and large atrocious. Having travelled a good portion of Spain by bus I must say I was struck by the difference. This is something to provoke alarm. Europe invests a greater percentage of its GDP into infrastructure than we do; it shows. We are not keeping up with the demands being placed on our infrastructure and I think we should be concerned about that. European lifestyle too is far different from ours. They are not as frenetic as we tend to be. We are in great hurry to get wherever we are going. We are so hung up on our so called "work ethic" that we forget to live. We are up early (often times in the office by 7:00 a.m.) and still there at 6:00 p.m. They, on the other hand, start their day later and end it later. Maybe this is due to time differential? Americans are looking for supper at 5:30-6:00 p.m; Europeans don't seem to think about dinner until about 9:00 p.m. City streets and "restaurantes" are buzzing with activity far into the night.
Photography in Spain was outstanding. I wasn't able to do much landscape work as it's impossible to shoot from a moving bus, but I had foreseen that and focused on street scenes and architecture, and I will have to say the experience was on a par with Italy, that is outstanding. The cities we visited offered outstanding depth and diversity, as well as color. Every city seemed unique in what it offered. From the narrow streets of old Seville and Toledo, and the splendor of the Alhambra in Granada, to the space age architecture of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilboa, and the surreal designs of Gaudi in Barcelona, it was like being in a candy store. My camera actually became warm to the touch on several occasions. The only drawback was time. Without exception I wanted much more time in every city visited. For instance, we spent one day and part of another in Barcelona, hardly enough time to warm up. It's like spending one day in Yosemite and thinking one can do it justice. Simply impossible. The only answer for an "overview" trip like this is to research very carefully and be focused, ready to hit the ground on arrival. We had about two hours in Madrid's Prado museum, and while we viewed much of its Spanish art the Prado warrants far more time, perhaps like the Louvre or Metropolitan Museums, a lifetime!
I am currently well into the editing phase of my Spain project. There are over 4,000 images to sort through and edit so it will take some time. What I'm seeing so far is only stoking my desire for more. Spain will take a prominent place in my "Visions of Europe" portfolio in the near future.