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Western Europe

I've visited every country in Western Europe before blogs existed. Therefore, you won't find a blog about each one, only on the countries I have re-visited recently.

I'll confess. Technically I haven't been to ALL the countries in Europe. I still have to go to Iceland (most of the island is in the European continent).

I've visited all the other European countries at least twice. This section covers the Western European ones.

River Rafting in Europe and Africa

Guest Post by Sophie Morgan:

Are you thinking about undertaking an adventurous water sport? Those who are curious and adventurous by nature can embark on white-water rafting. This thrilling family activity provides an exciting experience for people of all skill levels and age groups. Both Europe and Africa are blessed with flourishing rivers that offer exhilarating water rafting adventures.

Read more... [River Rafting in Europe and Africa]

French American TV interviews

In August 2012, Aline Diolina of French American TV interviewed me for her show. There are two videos:

  1. The first video is 100% in French (no subtitles, sorry).
  2. The second video is English in the first 8 minutes, and then switches to French for the final 22 minutes (again, no subtitles). 

We discuss my adventures of walking across America four times and traveling over three years in Eastern Europe. 


Skip the first 60 seconds of the video below, because it's a rocky start. The video begins in English and then switches to French at 8:20.

Learn more about my books, my 3-year trip to Eastern Europe, and my upcoming trip to Africa.


Venice Slide Show and 27 Photos

Venice is my favorite city in the world. Yeah, there's lots of tourists, but there's a good reason for that: Venice is awesome. That's why tourists don't flock to Hayward, California.

Also, you can avoid the crowds by going to parts of Venice that are less popular. Parts of the main island (far from Piazza San Marco and the Grand Canal) have almost no tourists. Murano and Burano are also somewhat quiet. And the other islands, like St. Eramus, are almost dead.

Below are 27 photos of Venice, but first, enjoy this slide show video!

(If you are in Germany, you won't be able to see this video because of the soundtrack restrictions. So watch the Vimeo version, which appears after the 27 photos.)

If you're learning to do photography, Venice is perfect. A blind guy could take stunning photos in Venice. I'm not blind, but here are some photos to motivate you to visit, or revisit Venice.

Gondolas driving the tourists through the Grand Canal


Read more... [Venice Slide Show and 27 Photos]

Defending American Culture

Part 5 of 5 of the "What Can Americans Teach Europeans" series

Fois Gras is classy European cuisineSnobby Europeans love to say that Americans have “no cuisine, no culture, no history.” Let’s refute this belief. We’ll begin with food. First, Americans brought hamburgers and Coca-Cola to the world. The French (and many others) will immediately sniff and say, “That doesn’t count.” Really? And foie gras does? That’s a dish that is prepared by force-feeding a poor duck. Now that’s really classy and sophisticated. Big Macs start looking like haute cuisine.

America has European quality cuisine: like French friesMoreover, America’s unique cuisine doesn’t end with a cheeseburger and a Coke. We’ve either invented or popularized banana splits, brownies, buffalo wings, cheese steaks, corn dogs, cotton candy, corn on the cob, doughnuts, fried chicken, fudge, garden burgers, grits, hot dogs, ice cream cones, Jell-O, macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes, onion rings, pancakes, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, pecan pie, popcorn, Popsicles, potato chips, Rice Krispie treats, root beer float, shoofly pie, sloppy joe, submarine sandwiches, and of course, the Twinkie. Not only does this list prove that Americans have plenty of dishes that are uniquely ours, but this list also explains why we are so incredibly fat.

Obviously American cuisine isn’t the most nutritious cuisine on the planet. The point is that we invented plenty of dishes. Besides, it’s impossible to find any national cuisine that is 100 percent healthy. Since the Japanese live the longest, they have arguably the best diet around. However, even the Japanese eat plenty of deep fried foods and white rice. And they often wash it down with beer or sake. Yes, Americans have one of the least healthy diets on the planet; on the other hand, I’ve never found a country that can make salads that are as delicious as the ones you can find in California. Finally, America is better than any other country at welcoming (and eating) exotic food from all over the world. Try finding non-Italian cuisine in Italy.

Read more... [Defending American Culture]

Defending American Ignorance

Part 4 of 5 of the "What Americans Can Teach Europeans" series

Europe's size compared to America's size shows that Europe is roughly the same size as the USA, if you don't count AlaskaAmericans are criticized for being ignorant of geography, languages, and the world in general.

Let’s examine geography first. For example, someone from Slovakia often feels smart because he can name at least ten countries near him and explain what’s basically going on there. He says Americans are stupid because they can’t do this.

Humans are regionally focused. Today, for the average human, that radius of interest and knowledge might be 500 km. For someone in Nebraska, that means being able to name 10 states around him. For someone in Belgium, that means 10 countries. The level of geographic knowledge is effectively the same. Europe and the United States are roughly the same size. Although it’s true that a Nebraskan won’t find Belgium on a map, it’s also true that a Belgium citizen won’t find Kansas on a map. And neither will find Togo or Cambodia. People are generally ignorant of anything that is beyond their geographic radius of knowledge.

Read more... [Defending American Ignorance]

Defending the American Smile

Part 3 of 5 of the "What Americans Can Teach Europeans" Series

Is this a real or fake smile? Whatever it is, it's better than a grumpy Eastern European frown.Europeans often criticize the “American smile.” They say that Americans are fake, because they often smile when they are not really happy. Americans pretend to be happy to see you, when they’re not. A customer service representative might greet you with a cheery, “Hi! How can I help you?” when she’s really a mean bitch.

Eastern Europeans somehow think that they are superior because they give you a scowl instead of a smile. Frankly, I’ll take a fake smile everyday over a sincere scowl. I might delude myself, but I don’t care. It just feels better. Why, when we have the choice between giving a smile or a frown, should we opt for a frown? The waiter and the person at the checkout counter has a choice. Why not put on a smile?

Some may say it’s not simply a choice between a frown or a smile. There’s a third way, the European way, which is a neutral face. This, Europeans claim, is the most sincere. “Why should the store representative smile at you when he doesn’t even know you? That’s insincere,” the Europeans argue. “It’s better to have a neutral face.”

Look at yourself in the mirror and put on your best neutral face. Imagine someone just walked into your store and you’re wearing that neutral face. What does it look like to the customer? It looks a bit cold, distant, unfriendly, and unapproachable. Obviously a frown is even worse, but the neutral look is off-putting too.

Furthermore, the neutral look would be fine if the customer service agent would immediately brighten up once they learn that you’re not trying to rape their daughter. However, they don’t. Even after you smile and are friendly, they often keep that same neutral, ambivalent face throughout the transaction. In Eastern Europe the neutral look will sometimes turn into a tirade against your simple attempts of communication. It makes for a lousy and cold experience.

Read more... [Defending the American Smile]

Defending the CIA

Part 2 of 5 of the "What Americans Can Teach Europeans" series

Several Eastern Europeans thought I worked for the CIA. They asked, “Why else would you be in Albania?”

The CIA probably doesn't even know that this guy just stepped on their logo

It’s hilarious what Eastern Europeans seriously believe the CIA does:

  • A Slovenian told me that the “weird” weather they were experiencing was due to the CIA testing wacky weather-controlling weapons nearby.
  • If someone semi-famous died unexpectedly, the CIA killed him.
  • The CIA controls all elections. But what if an anti-American candidate wins? It’s because the CIA wanted that to happen so it can use it as an excuse to invade the country, or because it somehow fits in their grand plan of world domination.
  • A Bulgarian told me that the Illuminati and the CIA control Obama and all world leaders. The CIA, he assured me, is the puppet-master behind everything, including what you had for breakfast this morning.
Read more... [Defending the CIA]

Defending American Foreign Policy

Europe can teach America many things, but America has a few lessons tooThroughout Eastern Europe, I’ve asked, “What can your country teach America?” I’ve documented their excellent suggestions in The Hidden Europe: What Eastern Europeans Can Teach Us.

As part of this process, Europeans often told me, quite bluntly, what they think of Americans. The fact that I’m half-European and that I have no American blood in me (I was born of a French father and a Chilean mother) probably made them more comfortable to share their true thoughts. I had often heard similar criticisms in Western Europe, which is why I'm posting this in the Western Europe section. After getting an earful, it became clear that there are a few things Americans can teach Europeans about America.

There are five themes that Europeans wail against Americans:

  1. America’s foreign policy shows that we’re a warmongering, imperialistic nation (see below for details).
  2. The CIA is behind everything.
  3. Americans are fake.
  4. Americans are ignorant.
  5. Americans are devoid of culture.

There’s a lot of truth to these five criticisms. In fact, in my book I often make fun of these things. However, let’s load up the aircraft carriers and stealth bombers and blast away the five most common criticisms about Americans.

Let's start with the first one and then the other articles will address the other four, although you're welcome to jump to the one that interests you most.

Read more... [Defending American Foreign Policy]

How Can You Afford to Travel the World? Including Norway?

A couple of years ago I received this email that asks me a question I still get asked all the time:

Greetings Mr. Tapon,

We share the same dream of traveling the world. This is exactly what I want to do. My question is: how do you afford it? Truly, you must be wealthy to be able to do this. Any advice on how I may follow in suit?

-Jonathan, 22

Although I answered Jonathan's question on my forum, people still ask me this often. Therefore, I'm putting the answer on my main webpage so that it's easier to find. This article has two parts: (1) Tips on how you can afford to travel the world even with a modest income and (2) applying those tips in Norway, one of the most expensive countries in the world. Along the way, you can mouse-over some photos from my Norway trip with Maiu in 2008.

Read more... [How Can You Afford to Travel the World? Including Norway?]

Mont Blanc

Aiguille de Bionnassay

Mont Blanc, at 4,810 meters (15,781 feet), is the tallest mountain in Western Europe and taller than any mountain in the contiguous USA. On September 1, 2009, I solo climbed Mont Blanc with trail runners (with crampons and an ice ax) in 48 hours.

Solo climbing Mont Blanc is dangerous; attempting it in sneakers adds to the risk. I don't recommend doing it, but I will explain why and how I did it.

About the photos: I lost my camera before my climb so I had use a disposable camera. It took lousy photos, so I tried making them more interesting by altering their colors.

Some facts to put the climb in perspective:

  • Yosemite's Half Dome hike has 1,600 meters (4,800 feet) of elevation gain; the summit is 2,650 meters (8,842 feet).
  • Starting from Chamonix, a Mont Blanc climber enjoys 3,800 meters (12,500 feet), or about 2.5 times more elevation gain than Half Dome.
  • Mt. Rainier is at about the same latitude, but is 1,400 feet shorter than Mont Blanc (4,492 vs. 4,810 meters). Because there is only half the oxygen you get at sea level, this extra bit of climbing can be challenging.

I had Acute Mountain Symptoms (AMS) the whole way up. I felt like a zombie most of the time.

Mont Blanc is located in Chamonix, France. You can approach it up the Italian side, but I am half French, so I picked the French side. Most people take either a gondola or cog train to save them up to 2,000 meters of climbing. However, I avoided the lift and started climbing from Chamonix (technically, I started from Les Houches) at 6 p.m. My starting altitude was about 1,000 meters (3,300 feet).

Agrandir le plan

By sunset the trail ended at a stop on the cog train tracks. Three friendly Italians had set up camp inside an abandoned building there. I crawled in through the window and joined them. I fell asleep around 9:30 p.m.

Although I had all the the stuff I needed to stay two nights on the mountain, I had this crazy idea of getting as high as possible in one day. So I woke up at 1 a.m., stepped over the sleeping Italians, and started following the train tracks up the mountain under the starlight.

By 2 a.m. I reached the end of the train tracks and started following the trail up the mountain. I was feeling weak and a little dizzy. I couldn't believe it. I was only at 6,000 feet! What was wrong with me?

Read more... [Mont Blanc]

Sins in the Netherlands

I've done fewer drugs than the Pope. However, Amsterdam would corrupt me.Pretty homes in Amsterdam

After having spent a month in Central America, the Netherlands was a shock: the flight arrived on time, there were clear signs everywhere, the streets were clean, and it was as butt cold.

I stayed in Toek's apartment in Amsterdam. Toek and I hiked together for about two days on the CDT. He is the only one from the Netherlands to complete the Triple Crown (AT, CDT, PCT). Like most thru-hikers, he has benefited from countless trail magic. He always wished to give back to the trail community, but he lived too far away from the trails to do much. However, this time the smelly trail person came to him, and he was happy to help.

Unfortunately, Toek wasn't there when I arrived. He was in Scotland, doing what he likes best, hiking. He left me the key to his kingdom and I was in Sin City: Amsterdam.Canals everywhere in Amsterdam!

Amsterdam blew me away and I didn't even do blow. First, it's one of those rare cities that has what I adore: lots of canals. Like Venice and St. Petersburg, canals crisscross Amsterdam, making it irresistibly romantic and charming. Nearly everywhere you look, you'll see a quaint bridge, a docked boat, and the sound of ducks roaming the waterways. Unlike Venice, there are cars, but thanks to $10/gallon gasoline, the cars are small, cute, and relatively quiet. Quaint shops and elegant restaurants abound. Nearly every building is a work of art. In short, Amsterdam is a classic European city: a place that makes you feel sophisticated and worldly, even when you're not.

Read more... [Sins in the Netherlands]
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Would you like see my 40-minute video of Traversing Spain Twice for free? Or how about getting four chapters of The Hidden Europe? And chapter 2 of Hike Your Own Hike? Get them all when you sign up for my bi-monthly newsletter below! I won't share your email with anyone. I hate spam too, so you can easily unsubscribe.