Ah, Europe. Sidewalk cafés by the Seine, stout Slovenian castles, rolling Tuscan fields.
Expensive? Yes. Crowded? Yes. And still, a trip to the Continent is one of the most common items on Canadians' bucket lists.
Why? Because Europe is the seat of our Western culture. Much of our society is based on Europe's past. Understanding, or at least feeling, the history of Europe is part of understanding ourselves and our story.
It's not that Europe is more historical than Asia, Africa or South America. It's just that its history is so accessible. It's well-preserved, well-presented and seemingly everywhere.
My first trip to Europe was the typical whirlwind five countries in three weeks. It was a stinking hot July and I was travelling with—egads—my mom. (Well, she paid for the plane ticket.) And still, I was challenged and impressed every day.
In the space of just a few weeks, I sat weeping in the Roman Colosseum, stumbled through my high school French to order a croissant, and got lost in the maze at Hampton Court.
As a 20-year-old, got-my-own-apartment college student, I thought I knew a lot... Hah! I ate real Italian pizza (Huh? What is this?), attended my first ballet in Paris, and went grocery shopping with a non-English-speaking aunt I'd never met before. Now that was an education.
Colliseum Rome, Italy PHOTOS: stock.xchng
Not into history? Try rock-climbing in the Pyrenees, cycling and dining your way along the Danube, or whitewater rafting in northern Scotland.
Europe is compact. In the time it takes the average Yukoner to drive from Whitehorse to Dawson, you can watch three countries roll by from the comfort of a high-speed train. Hiking in the Alps one day, swimming in the Mediterranean the next. Really, no one can be bored in Europe.
Travelling in Europe gave me confidence in my ability to cope. I discovered I could sleep fairly soundly on a vinyl train seat and make it through a day without washing my hair.
Out of a choice of 30, I got on the correct bus to the Louvre. I made myself understood enough to find anobelkneipe for a cold one.
Those exhausting but exhilarating weeks inspired me to make several more adventurous overseas trips.
In Peru in the '90s, I got accustomed to passing nervous-looking young men holding machine guns each time I entered a bank. At the top on Mt. Kilimanjaro, porters demanded more money, even though I'd paid for the round trip. That's just how it was.
In our Amazonian village, the municipal water didn't usually come on until 6 p.m., and some days, well, it just didn't come on. You survive.
Now I'm a home-schooling mom, giving my children as much real-life learning as I can. Exploring Europe would have to be the ultimate homeschooling project.
My 11-year-old son spent much of last winter engrossed in reading the mythology and history of Ancient Greece. I can envision him, silent and awe-struck, surveying Greece from the Acropolis, his sense of time forever changed.
Many Yukoners tend to think of the Klondike as historic. Imagine wandering around a temple built in 335 BCE!
Childhood fantasies, and adult dreams too, come true in Europe.
Picture my daughter's delight, strolling through the shimmering halls of le Palace de Versailles, or perched in a gondola on her way to the Venetian crystal shops.
She has an eye for the sparkle in this world, both literal and figurative. I can hardly wait to see her unique view of Europe on Flickr.
Let's face it. It is impossible to travel in Europe and not be impressed.
It's the perfect inspiration to dream as big as Eiffel, express oneself as uniquely as Picasso, and be grateful for our wonderful life in the Yukon.