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Welcome to Europe. This is it - the big time, the grand show, the Trip of Your Lifetime. You have good cause to be excited. Whether you're new to this whole travelling gig or a hardened veteran of decades of globetrotting, your trip to Europe will be the one that you'll never forget. There's a reason that this destination is always in vogue, consistently attracting millions of visitors per year and burning itself in the memories and imaginations of every single one.
Europe exudes a powerful energy grounded in its legendary history and sharpened by its key position at the cutting edge of the modern world. Forming the basis for much of global culture today, European traditions and ways have been shaped by a seemingly endless procession of innovations, conflicts and reawakenings. When you step onto European soil, you are almost certainly touching ground that has been stained by the blood of countless battles. These clashes - partially the product of an almost unimaginable diversity of races and cultures tightly packed into a petite parcel of land - have created and destroyed vast empires, allowed for the spreading and cultivation (and occasionally, the destruction) of myriad cultures, and in the process shaped the history of the world.
But now, perhaps more so than ever in their shared history, Europeans are turning from the chaos of war and adopting a communal future. The worlds of Western and Eastern Europe are converging, as common currencies and laws, the dismantling of barriers, and the gradual disappearing of international violence from the continent strip away so many of the causes for strife. It's an exciting time to visit, as travelling has never been easier, yet individual nations and regions are still clinging firmly to independent identities, steadfastly maintaining their traditions, languages and beliefs while accepting that the future lies in commonality. Meanwhile, forward-looking nations are moving quickly to protect their lands from overdevelopment and misuse, providing the visitor with enchanting, majestic escapes from the style and substance of modern European life.
It all smacks of epic adventure - and, as any good storyteller knows, such adventures are best undertaken with trustworthy companions. And the book you're currently holding is one such companion. It is our intent to serve you not as a tour guide, but rather as a friend who's been there and has learned a couple of tricks. We're not going to prescribe what to do, but we'll certainly offer suggestions. When it comes to finding you a comfortable place to rest or making sure that you don't miss the last bus out of town, we're there for you. Of course, sometimes we won't be able to contain our excitement and will nudge you to say, "Hey, check this out - it's really unbelievable!" But most of the time we'll try to point you in the right direction and let you play the explorer yourself. You are going to have a marvellous time no matter what, but the way to make the most out of your trip is to let your interests and intuition be your guide.
If this is all new to you, don't worry. We'll take you aside right at the beginning and bring you up to speed before letting you play with the others. In no time, you'll be cultivating your own storylines and amassing experience and knowledge that you, in turn, can pass on to fellow travellers.
Hey look - isn't that your backpack coming 'round the luggage carousel? Time to snatch it up, grab that last drink of water, and sprint to the bus stop so you don't miss that last connection to the hostel.
Enjoy the ride.