Some of the world’s oldest known civilizations have inhabited the Eastern Balkans, where worn-down mountain ranges punctuate the vast Thracian plain.
Yet many of the region’s cities have little to show for those ancient roots. Centuries of war, imperialism, poverty and even natural disasters have left much of the area lacking in opulent architecture and quaint historic cores like those found throughout Western Europe. And visitors accustomed to those more accessible destinations can find themselves frustrated by a lack of tangible urban history.
Did you know there are palm trees on the English coast? Neither did I. Like most of us, my mental image of the U.K. was shaped by earlier experiences in gray, rainy London and gloomy Scotland, and by the perpetual sodden chill in countless British novels. Can you imagine “Wuthering Heights” under a sunny blue sky?
One of the most distinctive things about California’s Pacific Coast Highway is how little it has changed over the years. Those heart-stopping curves along dusty cliffs, the vast Pacific Ocean crashing on rocky shores below, the towering evergreens that block out the sun around Big Sur? It is scenery as massive in scale as it is timeless.
When I was growing up, my parents never actually traveled anywhere, other than the predictable summer shore excursion — and of course, South Florida in the winter.
But that didn’t stop them from engaging in lively fantasy.
“Bud, wouldn’t it be romantic to go to Venice together?” my mom would rhapsodize, eyes shining at the prospect of gondolas and gelato. “Or Firenze! I remember shopping for gold jewelry on the Ponte Vecchio was I was 20…”
Deep in Scotland’s wild and craggy north, Aberdeen is a springtime destination that’s evergreen.
This is a region that is timeless in its wide verdant expanses, its year-round drizzly chill, the awesome history in its forbidding stone castles and their awesome history, and its cheery corner pubs.
It’s a corner of Europe — literally — that manages to be both stoic and warmly welcoming. Even in a place where the all-time record high temperature is 85 degrees Fahrenheit, there’s plenty of fun to be had amid the misty Scottish gloom.