Travel Photography - Europe

I advise any photographer, novice or professional, traveling to Europe to invest in a sturdy well designed camera bag. Few destinations provide as much motivation to repeatedly disturb a nesting camera, and a shoddy or poorly organized bag will be a constant source of frustration. For the photography enthusiast, countries like France, Germany and England, do not simply inspire the use of a camera, they demand the use of a camera. Once, I literally had a "nightmare" in which I found myself in Europe without my Nikons. The European continent offers an almost limitless succession of images that are both familiar and compelling. Nothing "says Paris" like the Eiffel Tower. A single image of Big Ben is sufficient to symbolize London, if not the entirety of England. A rack of colorfully painted wooden shoes or a row of windmills fading into the morning mist can only be Holland. A Rhine castle, a Munich beer hall, a Roman ruin or gondola-lined Venetian canal -- these are all images that are unmistakably European, even to those that have never traveled to Europe.

Whereas America offers an unsurpassed diversity of natural beauty, Europe offers an equally impressive diversity of culture and history. Europe is a land of striking contrasts. It is both the provincial villages of Belgium and Bavaria, and the cosmopolitan cities of London and Paris. Europe is the tense nervousness of the German Autobahn, and the solitude of a small Alsatian vineyard. Europe is the geologically unstable and frigid landscape of Iceland, as well as the calm sunny beaches and azure water of the Mediterranean.

Europe extends from the Artic Circle to within a few miles of the African coast, and yet the physical dimension of this landmass is less meaningful than the vast cultural, historic, and linguistic expanses that are encompassed. This synthesis of nations and people has a long and volatile history. From the Peloponnesian War to the modern-day European Union, Europe has repeatedly fragmented and unified as empires first conquered and then disintegrated, and as ideological and religious divisions emerged and were eventually reconciled. America is so young that more than half of our history is recorded on film. Europe is so old that its history merges seamlessly with Greek mythology.

In addition to photography, one of the great allures of Europe, particularly to an American, is this extensive and glorious past. The fascination with European history may be as generic as laying a hand on a block of cathedral stone placed by a mason that lived nine centuries ago, or as profoundly personal as finding the German village or castle that bears the family name. An American in Europe is quickly reminded that, with the arguable exception of the past two centuries, European history is also American history.

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