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.

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.

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.

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?

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.

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