Amsterdam (pronounced /ˈæmstərdæm/; Dutch [ˌɑmstərˈdɑm] ) is the capital and largest city of the Netherlands, with an urban population of 1,364,422 and a metropolitan population of 2,158,372. The city is located in the province of North Holland in the west of the country. It comprises the northern part of the Randstad, the sixth-largest metropolitan area in Europe, with a population of approximately 8.1 million.
Its name is derived from Amstellerdam, indicative of the city's origin: a dam in the river Amstel. Settled as a small fishing village in the late 12th century, Amsterdam became one of the most important ports in the world during the Dutch Golden Age, a result of its innovative developments in trade. During that time, the city was the leading centre for finance and diamonds. In the 19th and 20th centuries, the city expanded, and many new neighbourhoods and suburbs were formed. The 17th-century canals of Amsterdam (in Dutch: 'Grachtengordel'), located in the heart of Amsterdam, were added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in July 2010.
The city is the financial and cultural capital of the Netherlands. Many large Dutch institutions have their headquarters there, and 7 of the world's top 500 companies, including Philips and ING, are based in the city. In 2010, Amsterdam was ranked 13th globally on quality of living by Mercer, and previously ranked 3rd in innovation by 2thinknow in the Innovation Cities Index 2009.
The Amsterdam Stock Exchange, the oldest stock exchange in the world, is located in the city centre. Amsterdam's main attractions, including its historic canals, the Rijksmuseum, the Van Gogh Museum, Stedelijk Museum, Hermitage Amsterdam, Anne Frank House, its red-light district, and its many cannabis coffee shops draw more than 3.66 million international visitors annually.(wikipedia.org)
Dubrovnik (Croatian pronunciation: [ˈdǔbroːʋniːk]) (Italian and German: Ragusa), is a Croatian city on the Adriatic Sea coast in the extreme south of Dalmatia, positioned at the terminal end of the Isthmus of Dubrovnik. It is one of the most prominent tourist destinations on the Adriatic, a seaport and the center of Dubrovnik-Neretva county. Its population was 43,770 in 2001, down from 49,728 in 1991. In 1979, the city of Dubrovnik joined the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites.
The prosperity of the city of Dubrovnik has always been based on maritime trade. In the Middle Ages, as the Republic of Ragusa, also known as the fifth Maritime Republic (together with Amalfi, Pisa, Genoa and Venice), it became the only eastern Adriatic city-state to rival Venice. Supported by its wealth and skilled diplomacy, the city achieved a remarkable level of development, particularly during the 15th and 16th centuries. Although demilitarised in the 1970s with the intent of forever protecting it from war devastation, in 1991, after the breakup of Yugoslavia, it was besieged by Serb-Montenegrin forces for 7 months and heavily damaged by shelling. (wikipedia.org)
Berlin (English pronunciation: /bɜrˈlɪn/; German pronunciation: [bɛɐ̯ˈliːn]) is the capital city of Germany, and is one of the sixteen states of Germany. With a population of 3.4 million people, Berlin is Germany's largest city. It is the second most populous city proper and the eighth most populous urban area in the European Union. Located in northeastern Germany, it is the center of the Berlin-Brandenburg Metropolitan Area, comprising 5 million people from over 190 nations. Geographically embedded in the European Plains, Berlin is influenced by a temperate seasonal climate. Around one third of the city's territory is composed of forests, parks, gardens, rivers and lakes.
First documented in the 13th century, Berlin was successively the capital of the Kingdom of Prussia (1701–1918), the German Empire (1871–1918), the Weimar Republic (1919–1933) and the Third Reich (1933–1945). Berlin in the 1920s was the third largest municipality in the world. After World War II, the city was divided; East Berlin became the capital of East Germany while West Berlin became a de facto West German exclave, surrounded by the Berlin Wall (1961–1989). Following German reunification in 1990, the city regained its status as the capital of all Germany hosting 147 foreign embassies.
Berlin is a world city of culture, politics, media, and science. Its economy is primarily based on the service sector, encompassing a diverse range of creative industries, media corporations, congress and convention venues. Berlin serves as a continental hub for air and rail transport, and is one of the most visited tourist destinations in the EU. Significant industries include IT, pharmaceuticals, biomedical engineering, biotechnology, optoelectronics, traffic engineering, and renewable energy.
The metropolis is home to renowned universities, research institutes, sporting events, orchestras, museums and personalities. The urban and historical legacy has made it a popular setting for international film productions. The city is recognized for its festivals, diverse architecture, nightlife, contemporary arts, public transportation networks and a high quality of living. Berlin has evolved into a global focal point for young individuals and artists attracted by a liberal lifestyle and modern zeitgeist. (wikipedia.org)
Switzerland (German: die Schweiz, French: la Suisse, Italian: la Svizzera, Romansh: la Svizra), officially the Swiss Confederation (Confoederatio Helvetica in Latin, hence its ISO country codes CH and CHE), is a federal republic consisting of 26 cantons, with Bern as the seat of the federal authorities. The country is situated in Western Europe where it is bordered by Germany to the north, France to the west, Italy to the south, and Austria and Liechtenstein to the east.
Switzerland is a landlocked country geographically divided between the Alps, the Central Plateau and the Jura. Its area is 41,285 km2 (15,940 sq mi). The Swiss population of approximately 7.8 million people concentrates mostly on the Plateau, where the largest cities are to be found. Among them are the two global cities and economic centres of Zürich and Geneva. Switzerland is one of the richest countries in the world by per capita gross domestic product, with a nominal per capita GDP of $67,384. Switzerland also has one of the world's largest account balances as a percentage of GDP, only placing behind a few oil producing countries. Zürich and Geneva have respectively been ranked as the cities with the second and third highest quality of life in the world. In 2010, World Economic Forum deemed Switzerland the world's most competitive country.
The Swiss Confederation has a long history of neutrality—it has not been in a state of war internationally since 1815—and did not join the United Nations until 2002. Switzerland is home to many international organisations, including the World Economic Forum, the International Olympic Committee, the Red Cross, the World Trade Organization, FIFA, and the second largest UN office. On the European level it was a founder of the European Free Trade Association and is part of the Schengen Agreement – although it is notably not a member of the European Union, nor the European Economic Area.
Switzerland comprises three main linguistic and cultural regions: German, French, and Italian, to which the Romansh-speaking valleys are added. The Swiss therefore do not form a nation in the sense of a common ethnic or linguistic identity. The strong sense of belonging to the country is founded on the common historical background, shared values (federalism, direct democracy, neutrality) and Alpine symbolism. The establishment of the Swiss Confederation is traditionally dated to 1 August 1291; Swiss National Day is celebrated on the anniversary. (wikipedia.org)
5 The Plitvice Lakes - Croatia
The lakes are separated by natural dams of travertine, which is deposited by the action of moss, algae, and bacteria. The encrusted plants and bacteria accumulate on top of each other, forming travertine barriers which grow at the rate of about 1 cm per year.
The sixteen lakes are separated into an upper and lower cluster formed by runoff from the mountains, descending from an altitude of 636 to 503 m (2,087 to 1,650 ft) over a distance of some eight km, aligned in a south-north direction. The lakes collectively cover an area of about two km², with the water exiting from the lowest lake to form the Korana River.
The lakes are renowned for their distinctive colours, ranging from azure to green, grey or blue. The colors change constantly depending on the quantity of minerals or organisms in the water and the angle of sunlight. (wikipedia.org)
Rome (English pronunciation: /ˈroʊm/; Italian: Roma pronounced [ˈroːma] ; Latin: Rōma) is the capital of Italy and the country's largest and most populated city and comune, with over 2.7 million residents in 1,285.3 km2 (496.3 sq mi). The population of the metropolitan area is calculated to be just over 4 million people.
The city of Rome is located in the central-western portion of the Italian Peninsula, on the Tiber River within the Lazio region of Italy. Rome's history spans over two and a half thousand years. It was the capital city of the Roman Kingdom, the Roman Republic and the Roman Empire, which was the dominant power in Western Europe and the lands bordering the Mediterranean Sea for over seven hundred years from the 1st Century BC until the 7th Century AD. Since the 1st Century AD Rome has been the seat of the Papacy and, after the end of Byzantine domination, in the 8th century it became the capital of the Papal States, which lasted until 1870. In 1871 Rome became the capital of the Kingdom of Italy, and in 1946 that of the Italian Republic.
After the Middle-Ages, Rome was ruled by popes such as Alexander VI and Leo X, who transformed the city into one of the major centers of the Italian Renaissance, along with Florence. The current-day version of St Peter's Basilica was built and the Sistine Chapel was painted by Michelangelo. Famous artists and architects, such as Bramante, Bernini and Raphael resided for some time in Rome, contributing to its Renaissance and Baroque architecture.
In 2007 Rome was the 11th-most-visited city in the world, 3rd most visited in the European Union, and the most popular tourist attraction in Italy. The city is one of Europe's and the world's most successful city brands, both in terms of reputation and assets. Its historic centre is listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. Monuments and museums such as the Vatican Museums and the Colosseum are amongst the world's 50 most visited tourist destinations (the Vatican Museums receiving 4.2 million tourists and the Colosseum receiving 4 million tourists every year).(wikipedia.org)
7 Greece - Meteora
Meteora means suspended in air. Hermit Byzantine monks in the ninth century first inhbited these mountains, living on fissures and caves along the rocks to spend time with God. In the 14th century, these hermit monks built 20 different monastaries to get away from Turkish occupation. The tall cliffs were the perfect escape for these monks. At first only ladders and ropes were the only way to reach these monestaries. During the 1920s steps were carved out making it more accessible. Today only six monestaries remain.
Best times to go May and June, it has the most comfortable weather. Acquaint yourself with Greek Orthodoxy to get the most enjoyment.
How to go: use buses from Thessaloniki, Ioannina, Trikala, and Athens. Lots of lodging options in Kalampaka at the base of Meteora. (www.squidoo.com)