One Sentence on Each Country

Earlier this fall, the New York Times ran a contest that was right up my alley. The famous NYC daily took applications for a single travel writer who would spend 52 weeks – the entirety of 2018 – traveling around the world, spending seven days apiece in each of the newspaper’s 52 places to visit in 2017.

The application process was easy enough; applicants had to provide links to their social media accounts and to write a 500-word essay, but the competition was ridiculous. The job opening was posted for roughly 14 days; the paper received 3,100 applications in the first 72 hours alone!

I threw my proverbial hat into the ring, even though I had already visited many of the destinations in question, such as Stockholm and Puerto Escondido. Considering the competition, I know that I – along with every other applicant, for that matter – face an uphill battle towards job acceptance, but I would definitely savor the opportunity and believe that I can excel in the role.

In my essay, I wrote about how my having already visited 70 countries makes me the ideal candidate because, having traveled internationally every year since 2000 except 2014 and 2015, I am not only a seasoned traveler but a tireless one as well.

Will I get the job? Probably not. But the application process inspired to think back upon some of the places I have traveled to. I compiled a country-by-country list, and thought I would share it with you, Loyal Reader. Without further ado – and taking the definition of “run-on sentence” to new levels – here is one sentence on each country that I have visited:

______________________

Argentina: Buenos Aires is basically the Paris of Latin America, with wide boulevards and fashionable people walking dogs along them, while the numerous cascades, big and small, of border-straddling Iguassu Falls spread across so many hectares that you’ll need more than one day to see them all.

Australia: With so many Gap Year Australians filling hostels round-the-world to capacity, it is almost surprising to discover that Sydney and Melbourne are thriving cities of over one million people, each metropolis hugging the coast while coral blooms in shark-infested offshore waters and monolithic red rocks dominate the vast Outback.

Austria: Vienna is the political and culinary capital, but for my money the smaller cities of Innsbruck and Salzburg, each nestled just below the Alps, are infinitely more beckoning with their ski hills, alpine zoos, festivals, and kitsch-tacular “Sound of Music” tours.

Belgium: French fries with mayo, seemingly thousands of beers to choose from, and museums filled with Benelux oils and Congolese riches, the former a testament to the region’s art history and the latter a sad – and sadly typical – example of “take by force” colonial rule.

Bolivia: This poor country lost a border dispute with Chile and became one of just two landlocked South American countries, with nearly all of that land residing above 11,000 feet – part of a dry altiplano that is home to some of the planet’s hardest working people, who wear bowler hats and eke out a living by mining for salt, breeding llamas, and fishing for freshwater trout.

Bosnia & Herzegovina: Another unfortunate country, Bosnia is arguably the poorest country that was once part of former Yugoslavia, although, unlike Bolivia, it did manage to score sea access, and also played witness to world history by hosting, in its enchanting capital, Sarajevo, both the trigger event for WWI and one of the better Winter Olympics in almost two centuries of games.

Botswana: One of the safest countries in sub-Saharan Africa, Botswana has almost zero guns, and not many people either, especially considering that much of the country is Kalahari flood plain territory where hippos, termites, and elephants rule supreme.

Brazil: The most talked-about country in Latin America, Brazil is, in many ways, the “BRIC” country with which the rest of the world feels infatuated – beach, business, bossa nova, and the body beautiful – oh, also futból, Iguassu Falls again, the Amazon, and a marvelous city that you may have heard of called Rio de Janeiro.

Canada: I don’t know if Canadians really are the friendliest people in the world, but they are almost certainly more easy-going than their neighbors to the immediate south, and the country they live in – the world’s second-largest by mass – is dotted with vibrant cities, majestic wildlife, and the supremely inspiring Canadian Rockies.

Chile: This long, skinny, Ring of Fire nation is, earthquakes notwithstanding, the most “livable” country in South America, with a mild climate, great wine, a strong economy, and places like Valparaiso, its candy-colored port city, and Santiago, the Los Angeles of South America right down to its identical weather.

China: A single sentence isn’t enough to encapsulate the world’s most populous nation, where the highest mountains on earth meet terraced rice paddies, which in turn meet the terminus of the Silk Road (in Xi’an), the colossal, much-photographed Great Wall, and countless cities – including many you’ve never heard of – that burst at the seams with several million residents apiece, residents who are inquisitive, industrious, and friendly beyond measure.

Colombia: This beautiful, oft-turbulent South American land of Andes mountains, Amazonian tropics, and Caribbean beaches, is the most populous Spanish-speaking country on the continent and produces coffee, cocaine, and soccer championships in equal measure…as well as an enticing travel blend of vibrant highland cities, steamy jungle ruins, and something called finca tourism.

Croatia: This Balkan country’s classical Baroque capital of Zagreb, as well as its stunning Dalmatian coastline city of Dubrovnik, were both ravaged by the civil war that marked the early years of independence for the former Yugoslavia, but they rebounded so remarkably that you can hardly tell; Dubrovnik’s summertime influx of cruise ship tourists, more than the walled city can seemingly withstand, may ultimately do more damage than any Serbian fighter ever could.

Cuba: Fidel has passed away, his brother Raúl is stepping down, and commercial flights and cruises once again connect Cuba with the United States, which means that this complicated, captivating island nation is open for business, which is a blessing to the tourism industry considering how much the country, particularly its hypnotic, unforgettable capital city, has to offer…besides cigars and rum, that is.

Czechia: I don’t think the Czech Republic did itself any favors by changing its English name to Czechia in 2016, but time will tell, and hopefully time will continue to be as kind to the Baroque architecture of Czechia, particularly Prague, as it has been thus far.

Denmark: Bring a fat wallet when you visit Denmark, one of the wealthiest EU nations (smartly keeping its own currency, the krone) as well as the southernmost Scandinavian country, which despite its “southern” latitude still features long summer days perfect for exploring its beaches, castles, and timeless entertainments like Tivoli, a for-all-ages amusement park that ranks up there with the Disney parks in terms of both ambiance and admission price.

Egypt: Few countries anywhere in the world fascinate armchair travelers as much as Egypt does, and for good reason; over a dozen surviving pyramids, a slowly-decaying sphinx, historic Thebes, Biblical Mount Sinai, the cosmopolitan port city of Alexandria and the fascinating megalopolis of Cairo, through which flows that fabled river of African life, the Nile, simply demand to be visited.

El Salvador: In what is something of a contrast, I have never seen more guns, nor friendlier locals, than I have when in El Salvador, an easy country to visit when you consider its hub airport (SAL, connecting you to almost anywhere else in the Americas), its currency (the almighty USD), and its coffee (the best I’ve ever tasted).

Finland: Finland is perhaps the least-expensive country to visit in Scandinavian Europe…and the least visited, too, which makes little sense considering how enchanting its harbor capital and one-time Olympics host city, Helsinki, is, or how tasty the region’s reindeer jerky is, or, perhaps most remarkably at all, how good the English is of the country’s residents, spoken with perfect grammar and barely a hint of an accent.

France: According to worldatlas.com, France receives more international tourists than any other country on earth, a fact that may surprise a few freedom fries-eating Americans but surprises nobody who has actually been to France, which is about much, much more than just its complicated, cosmopolitan capital city of Paris.

Germany: It is hard to say if I truly have a single favorite country from my travels, but if pressured I suppose I would select “Germany,” a leader in global finance and much, much more than a beer-swilling, sausage-scarfing, lederhosen-wearing caricature…although it is all of those things, too, and, more recently, a World Cup defending champion.

Great Britain: England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Island are about all the remain of a once-global empire that gave us law and order, fish and chips, afternoon tea, cricket, James Bond, the kilt (sans underwear, of course), and such iconic wonders as Stonehenge, Big Ben, Giants Causeway, and St. Andrews…oh, and a penchant for driving on the wrong side of the road.

Greece: If if it seems that Greece, with its struggling economy and continuous influx of Syrian migrants devaluing the Euro, faces an uncertain future, look back to its glorious past to remember that the olive-producing nation, with a dramatic coastline straddling the Ionian and Aegean Seas, still enjoys a culture of sun and wine after weathering several millennia of conflict against the Persians, the Macedonians, and the Germans, to name just a few marauders.

Guatemala: Like El Salvador to the south, Guatemala’s residents are poor but quick to smile and welcome travelers to their vibrant county, filled with highland villages, towering Mayan ruins, and a Semana Santa (Holy Week) that simply must be experienced in person, regardless of one’s religious convictions.

Holy See: Although the Holy See (more commonly known as Vatican City), which has no formal border separating it from surrounding Rome, the smallest country in the world has so much to see in its related trifecta of attractions – St. Peters Basilica and Square, the Vatican Museums, and the Sistine Chapel – that you’ll be hard-pressed to thoroughly see it all in a single day.

Honduras: Aside from native-born Hondurans returning from the U.S. to visit family left behind, Honduras receives almost no visitors, which is a pity, if only because its stupendous Mayan city of Copan, just a stone’s throw from Guatemala, demands to be visited.

Hong Kong: The People’s Republic of China may beg to differ, but I consider Hong Kong, with its different visa regulations that the rest of China, a separate country, and – courtesy of its Victoria and Aberdeen Harbours, its giant Tian Tan Buddha statue, and its lively night markets – a dazzling introduction to the region in general.

Hungary: Hungary, a fertile farmland between Austria, Slovakia, and the former Yugoslavia, is arguably one of the best-positioned countries in Europe in terms of geography and east-west trade…particularly its glorious, Danube-hugging capital, Budapest, a still-beautiful, Baroque relic of spas and goulash restaurants, and a place that is really two cities in one, courtesy of the river itself.

Iceland: You know the saying that goes, “Greenland doesn’t have much green and Iceland doesn’t have much ice” (or something like that), but while that statement is mostly accurate, it doesn’t fully describe the bizarre foreign North Atlantic land of geysers, waterfalls, horse pastures, Aurora Borealis, volcanoes, and Björk.

India: This chaotic, complicated, crowded, and captivating country – the fastest-growing nation in the world – is a spiritual, imperfect, candy-colored assault on all five senses…and I mean that in a good way.

Ireland: A short ferry ride “across the pond” from Great Britain, Ireland is a majority-Catholic, Guinness-drinking, staunchly-independent nation, much more than a postcard-perfect land of rolling green hills, sheep paddocks, and quirky hamlets straight out of the movie “Waking Ned Devine.”

Italy: Moreso than perhaps any other country in Europe, Italy has a lifetime of things to see, including Mediterranean, Adriatic, and Ligurian coastlines, towering Alpine crags, at least one leaning tower, at least two volcano-ruined cities, and the one-two-three punch of Rome, Florence, and Venice, which combined have some of the best art, architecture, and cuisine on the continent.

Japan: I spent two whirlwind November 2004 days in Tokyo, visiting neon neighborhoods, Shinto shrines, Imperial gardens, soothing sentos, sushi bars, and labyrinthine subway stations…not enough time by half.

Kenya: Kenya is home to the largest slum in the world, to border skirmishes with lawless Somalia, and to an alarming HIV infection rate, but while all of those things are damning humanitarian issues, all you really need to know as a traveler to Kenya is that you are guaranteed to see wildlife – lions, rhinos, elephants, all of the above – in greater detail than anywhere else on the planet.

Liechtenstein: Tiny Liechtenstein, just a few crags in the middle of Europe’s Alps, once attracted tourists eager to mail a letter home stamped by the oddly-famous Liechtenstein Post Office, though today it mostly attracts mountain climbers and adventurers such as myself, who travel far and wide to toast the prince of Liechtenstein each August 15th, when he opens his hilltop castle to the public with free beer for everyone.

Luxembourg: Larger the Liechtenstein, above, but still pint-sized by country standards, the French-speaking, Germany-bordering duchy of Luxembourg is overlooked by most Eurotrippers in favor of Amsterdam and Brussels, which is too bad for them considering the surplus of châteaux in the forested countryside and the sheer beauty of Luxembourg’s gorge-straddling capital city.

Macau: Like the aforementioned Hong Kong, Macau, a former Portuguese colony currently granted independent rule by China, is, for all intents and purposes, its own country…with Chinese street signs fronting Portuguese architecture and a smattering of casinos for good touristic measure.

Malaysia: Malaysia is a long way from the U.S. – 18 squirm-inducing hours by plane by most routes – but your visit is sure to be an enjoyable one, especially if the dazzling city of Kuala Lumpur, with its minarets, Chinatown street markets, and stunning Petronas Towers, is part of your itinerary.

Mexico: Though often overlooked as a drug-trafficking border nation, there is so, so, so much more to Mexico, where Pacific Ocean and Gulf of Mexico waves crash against earthquake-shaken land that is home to countless colonial-era towns, to snow-capped volcanoes, to steamy jungle ruins, and to the biggest city in the Americas, the most captivating single gathering place of humanity on the planet.

Monaco: The second-smallest country in the world, wealthy, French-speaking Monaco, is said to have one police officer for every 50 residents, making me feel safe enough to visit its casino and stroll along its Monte Carlo Harbor at any time of day or night.

Montenegro: The second-youngest country in Europe (after Kosovo, which I have not visited), Montenegro, which enjoys a Mediterranean climate, is like a tinier Norway, but with better weather.

The Netherlands: I have not given the Netherlands, Europe’s lowest (below sea level) country in terms of elevation, enough of my time, but I did enjoy seeing the modern harbor of Rotterdam and the concentric series of canals that make up the delightful center of anything-goes Amsterdam.

Namibia: Depending on what you call a “country,” Namibia is either the second or the fifth-least densely populated country on earth, and by either count a beautiful, safe, and friendly corner of Africa, its former Germany colonization still visible wherever cities and towns exist…usually with miles upon miles of savannas and sand dunes between them.

New Zealand: I spent a month in the small South Pacific country of New Zealand, where sheep outnumber humans, and it wasn’t enough time to take everything in – and by “everything” I mean cosmopolitan cities, idyllic bays, South Island glaciers, glowworm caves, otherworldly hiking trails, geothermal waters, fascinating Maori culture, and arguably every adrenaline sport possible.

Nicaragua: A recent highlight from my travels, this peaceful Central American nation, straddling both the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans, boasts colonial cities (Granada and León), active volcanoes (Masaya and Concepción), tropical escapes (San Juan del Sur and the Corn Islands), an earthquake-ravaged capital (Managua), and an eternity of travel memories.

North Korea: I spent just one day here, visiting various points along the DMZ – and just 20 minutes on the actual North Korean side of the border – and, like Dennis Rodman, I hunger to see more.

Norway: And the “Most Expensive Country on This List” award goes to Norway, a country of stunning natural beauty and a place whose majority blonde-haired, blue-eyed residents are said to enjoy longer life expectancy and a higher happiness index rating than – believe it or not – countries with much better weather (which is just about everywhere else on earth).

Panama: The French-built, formerly U.S.-managed Panama Canal (pictured below) is the single wonder that most non-travelers could name about Panama, and while it is fascinating to watch big ships pass through the canals locks, there is so much more to this sweltering isthmus country than just this awesome wonder of engineering.

Peru: While the jaw-dropping Incan ruins of Machu Picchu, which defy description beyond basic superlatives, were the highlight of my trip to Peru, what I remember most about my travels there is seeing how the people, some of the world’s poorest, live on land so rich in natural resources that the obvious mismanagement of the country’s wealth distribution should be a greater humanitarian crisis than the international media acknowledges.

Poland: My maternal relatives hail from the Tarnow region of the country, so Poland, slower to modernize, post-Soviet Union, than other countries in the region, will always have a place in my heart.

Portugal: Although Portugal regularly gets second shrift to Spain in terms of tourism, EU dollars, and name recognition in general, the country that, courtesy of colonization, gave us Brazil, Cape Verde, Macau, and Mozambique (among other nations), not to mention the captivating national capital of Lisbon, more than stands on its own.

Russia: This complicated nation, rife with red tape at every turn, is far from being my favorite country, but with its imposing Kremlin, its stupendous Hermitage Museum, its summer “white nights” and its brutal winters, Russia – particularly Moscow and St. Petersburg – demands a visit for any serious student of history and art, while its trans-Siberian railway remains the defining multi-day train ride anywhere.

Singapore: “Singapore is a fine city,” declare t-shirts and shot glasses marketed solely at tourists, many of whom marvel at the city-state’s penchant for fines over seemingly every minor offense, including chewing gum…but it seems to work, for Singapore is perhaps the cleanest, safest, most commerce-friendly country in Asia, and possibly the world.

Slovakia: One half of what, for several decades of Communism, was Czechoslovakia, Danube-hugging Slovakia is lesser known than Czechia to the north, but more than holds its own, thanks to its medieval capital, Bratislava, and to its smattering of castles, sprinkled across the country from the Austrian border in the west to the Ukrainian border in the east.

Slovenia: Possibly my favorite country in Central Europe, Slovenia – landlocked except for a gorgeous, 15-mile stretch of Adriatic coastline between Italy and Croatia – has fared better economically than any of the other former Yugoslavian countries.

South Africa: During the World Cup of 2010, all eyes were on South Africa, arguably the most progressive and hope-filled nation in all of sub-Saharan Africa…and for good reason, considering the country’s stunning topography, vibrant cities, magnificent wildlife, and wide-eyed, hospitable people, the friendliest locals on the continent.

South Korea: For the decades that China was isolated politically from the rest of the world, South Korea – particularly its bustling, kimchi-serving mega-capital, Seoul (where, like Japan’s Tokyo, classical gardens sit in the shadow of all-glass skyscrapers) – rivaled Japan as the economic powerhouse of the region.

Spain: I haven’t seen as much of Spain as I’d like (although I did enjoy cosmopolitan Barcelona, atmospheric Granada, and Moorish Córdoba), but I suspect that Spain is one of those European countries like Germany, France, and Italy in that a lifetime simply isn’t long enough to take in everything that the country has to offer…although I’m up for the challenge.

Sweden: My favorite Scandinavian country, Sweden is packed with cities, towns, castles, and coastal sites of interest, ranging from the walled city of Visby to the peninsular town of Kalmar to the museum-packed capital, Stockholm, with thousands upon thousands of islands comprising its regional archipelago.

Switzerland: The very expensive cross country train ride from Geneva in the west to Zurich in the east is so rife with picture postcard views and countless potential stopovers that it could conceivably take several weeks to make the just-four-hour rail journey; while I was particularly smitten with the hiking paradise of Zermatt, I was sure – as you should be also – to set aside a couple days apiece for both hub cities, each one rife with museums, pedestrian quarters, and chocolateries.

Syria: It is hard to me to believe that the country I visited safely in 2007, a country that had me visiting Roman ruins, crusader castles, Biblical Damascus, and a monastery town that still spoke the language of Jesus (!), is now the most miserable country in the world.

Taiwan: From the neon lights of busy Taipei, one of Asia’s most livable cities, to the waterfalls and cloud forests of Taroko Gorge, one of the continent’s premier hiking destinations, the island nation of Taiwan packs a wallop; no wonder that the PRC wants it for themselves.

Tanzania: Wildebeest serve the circle of life as crocodile food while Mount Kilimanjaro’s glacial ice cap slowly melts and Zanzibar’s spice island palm trees sway in the tropical breeze, all in the friendly, wallop-packing, East African country of Tanzania.

Thailand: Thailand has Buddhist temples, elephant sanctuaries, five-star hotels, and white sand beaches to beckon travels from around the world, but it also has sweltering humidity, sex tourism, one of the world’s most polluted cities, and a turbulent relationship between the royal family and the national army.

Turkey: Turkey, which straddles two continents, is both the most Asian country in Europe and the most European country in Asia, and its enchanting, Bosphorus-set city, Istanbul, with its spice market, underground cistern, hamams, Blue Mosque, carpet shops, and nargileh (hookah) bars, is merely the tip of the country’s travel iceberg.

Uganda: Sad and wonderful in equal measures, a visit to Uganda is a reminder that so many countries in east and central Africa may never get out of the shadow of crippling international debt, despite having a wealth of agricultural and ecological riches, from tea plantations to volcano tours to pinch-yourself-you-must-be-dreaming gorilla treks, riches that would make travelers and foreign investors supremely happy, if only the IMF didn’t seize every penny of profit.

Ukraine: I haven’t spent any time in Crimea, that corner of Eastern Ukraine that was taken over by Russia in 2014 in a Putin-led land grab, but I was floored by Kiev (Central Ukraine) and Lviv (Western Ukraine) enough to say that if they are any indication of what the country has to offer – besides being the traditional “bread basket of Europe” – then it frankly is no wonder that Putin wants at least a portion of Ukraine for himself.

United Arab Emirates: This small Persian Gulf – excuse me – Arabian Gulf country consists of a series of oil-rich (and slightly soulless) emirates that today function as wannabe Las Vegas-style adult playgrounds, where indoor skiing is just one of many pursuits to be enjoyed here despite the triple-digit temperatures outside.

United States of America: If you look beyond the too-frequent mass shootings and the fact that an orange Cheeto (with apologies to Frito-Lay) is in charge of our nation’s collective destiny, you’ll find America to be a geologically and ethnically diverse melting pot that is home to some of the planet’s greatest natural wonders (Yosemite, the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone) and greatest cities (New York, Chicago, New Orleans).

Uruguay: I haven’t check the stats on this, but I would imagine that tiny Uruguay, just across the wide, muddy Rio de la Plata from Argentina, is the safest country in South America; if it doesn’t offer as much on the “grand tourism” scale as Argentina and other continental neighbor, its mild climate, modern Montevideo Airport, and inviting beaches should at least attract leisure travelers, who can feast like royalty on the country’s sublime, grass-fed cattle.

Zambia: Like most other countries in Southern Africa, Zambia is poor but its people welcome you with mile-wide smiles that perhaps linger longer in your memory than the countries’ sights themselves, in Zambia’s case the magnificent Victoria Falls, so named after England’s Queen Victoria but known colloquially as “Mosi-oa-Tunya” – “The Smoke That Thunders.”

Zimbabwe: The “other Z-half” of Victoria Falls, cheaper, poorer Zimbabwe is as worth seeing as its more-visited neighbor, and may have the only game part in Africa (Hwange National Park, home to over 25,000 elephants) that allows for unguarded, self-guided nature walks.

______________________

That is 73 countries, by my count, including my current country of residence, the U.S., which is larger than Europe and which contains 50 distinct, country-sized states all its own. Are any of these places on your 2017, 2018, or lifetime travel bucket lists? Leave a comment below and let your fellow Loyal Readers know!

Author: gringopotpourri

Gringo - aka Scott - was born outside of Chicago and has lived most of his life in or around big cities. He spent two years of his adult life in Mexico City (talk about big cities!) and fell in love with Mexican food, history, and women, all while weathering the culture shock. Life's journey has since brought him to rural Tennessee, perhaps the biggest culture shock of them all. Scott also enjoys movies, hiking, and travel in general.

4 thoughts on “One Sentence on Each Country”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s