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The official name of Switzerland is the Swiss Confederation. If you are considering visiting Switzerland, you should know something about the country. An Overview of Switzerland for Travelers Switzerland is uniquely positioned in Europe because it sits on the crossroads of many routes. Although not as important in modern times, the geographic position explains the odd situation where the official languages of the country are German, Italian and Romansch. French is widely spoken in the west and English is prevalent throughout the country. There is no language unique to Switzerland…Switzerish perhaps. Switzerland is a very modern country rating at or near the top of all living standards in the world. Literacy rates are near 100 percent, 25 percent of adults hold diplomas from higher education and religious freedom is guaranteed. Switzerland has one of the highest usage rates of computers and the Internet, not to mention a high per capita income level. Health care services are outstanding and nearly all Swiss are insured. Historically, Switzerland was first inhabited by Helvetic Celts. It eventually came under the rule of the Roman Empire. During this period, it flourished as cities such as Geneva, Basel and Zurich served as major commerce centers in the Roman Empire. After the fall of the Roman Empire, Switzerland was invaded and ruled by various groups. It later passed into control of the popes of the Roman Catholic Church. Eventually, the three dominant families in Switzerland agreed to a joint rule pact in which they pledged joint defense, peace and autonomous rule. They signed the agreement on August 1, 1291, a day now considered Nations Day in Switzerland. Following this period, Switzerland pursued land capture through military ventures, defeating the Habsburgs on three separate occasions. They were subsequently defeated by the French and Venetians and renounced expansionist policies, the foundation of Swiss Neutrality. After a brief civil war between Protestants and liberals, Switzerland settled into the country it is today in 1848. Free of Catholic rule, the country passed a constitution establishing strong civil liberties. Unlike most countries, the Swiss federal government is very weak. The states, known as cantons, have significant autonomy and the effective law makers in the country. The citizens of Switzerland go by the name “Swiss.” The population totals about 7.3 million and grows less than one percent a year in size. Religiously, Swiss categorize themselves as Roman Catholic 42 percent, Protestant 33 percent, Muslim 4.3 percent, others 5.4 percent and no religion 11percent. The literacy rate is claimed to be 100 percent and the average life expectancy is 76.5 years for men and 82.5 for women. Switzerland’s policy of neutrality has served it will through two world wars. Much of the country has escaped the damage inflicted on its neighbors. With soaring peaks and beautiful cities, it is a traveler’s delight. Now that you know something about it, give it a visit.
The Republic of Liberia was on of the more stable African countries until a massive civil war. For extreme travelers, the war is over and Liberia is back on the map. Here’s a look at where the country has been and where it is going. An Overview of Liberia for Travelers Liberia means the land of the free. It is a fitting name considering the country was established by freed slaves from the United States in 1820. Referred to as Americo-Liberians, the freed slaves established Monrovia which is named after U.S. President James Madison. Although there were minor disputes throughout Liberia’s history, it was generally saved the problems faced by much of colonized Africa. Indeed, Liberia was known for its hospitality, strong education system, booming rubber industry and strong liberal arts. Unfortunately, political unrest led to a brutal civil war from 1989 till 1996 during which the country fell apart and over 200,000 Liberians were killed. Prior to 1980, the country was ruled by the True Whig Party, which consisted ostensibly of descendents from the freed slaves. On April 12, 1980, Samuel Doe led a military coup, executed the elected President and put the People’s Redemption Council in power. The new leaders increasingly pursued ethnic policies favoring the indigenous Krahn peoples. This led to massive resistance from non-Krahn peoples. In 1989, full blown civil war broke out between various factions. The country was ripped apart and Doe was ultimately defeated and killed on September 9, 1990. One of the rebel leaders, Charles Taylor, was put in charge of an interim government. Instead of uniting the country, he more or less declared himself dictator and continued the factional fighting. A cease fire was worked out in 1997 and rebel groups agreed to disarm. Taylor won elections in 1997 under questionable circumstances. Once again, he failed to do anything to heal the country, instead funding a guerilla attack on neighboring Sierra Leone. Under massive international pressure of the “don’t make us come there” type, he resigned and fled into exile on June 4, 2003. On October 11, 2005, free elections were finally held. After a runoff, Liberia elected Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf the first female president of Liberia. She took office in January of 2006. Her election is viewed as a very positive step by Liberia to get back on track. As to basic information, Liberia covers roughly 43,000 square miles. The capital is Monrovia and the total population is 3.24 million. Liberia has 40% of West Africa's rain forest. Liberia is the second-largest maritime licenser in the world with more than 1,800 vessels registered under its flag, including 35% of the world's tanker fleet. The people of Liberia are known as Liberians. The ethnic breakdown is Kpelle 20 percent, Bassa 16 percent, Gio 8 percent, Kru 7 percent and 49 percent spread over 12 other ethnic groups. Religious break down is Christian 30 percent, Muslim 10 percent, and animist 60 percent. English is the official language, but there are also 16 indigenous languages. Life expectancy is 47 years and the literacy rate is 56 percent. Liberia has gone from a stable, beautiful country to civil war and back. Although the war is over, it isn’t entirely stable at this time. Travelers seeking an extreme experience may find it to be a good destination, but it is still a very dangerous country.
Kenya is stunningly beautiful African country that has seen its share of good and bad times. If you are traveling to Kenya, the following information will give you a head start. An Overview of Kenya for Travelers Kenya is a crossroads country in Africa, which means a little bit of various African countries reside there. More than 40 languages are spoken and as many as eleven different ethnic groups can be identified. The religious breakdown is also very diverse. Despite this variety, the country has a fairly harmonious existence. The national slogan is harambee which loosely translates to lets pull together. Compared to other sub-Saharan countries, Kenya has historically been advanced in infrastructure and general living standards. During the colonial period, England controlled the country and developed the area. Kenyans were not allowed to participate in government, much like South Africa. As you might expect, Kenyans rebelled and eventually became independent on December 12, 1963. The Kenya People’s Union then became the only political party and ruled until 2002. In October 2002, the National Rainbow Coalition dominated elections. Following independence, Kenya continued to grow economically and the standard of living was the envy of much of Africa. Unfortunately, corruption threw a wrench in the proceedings the country has suffered from a lurching economy for the last 15 years. In 2003, the country turned things around and things have generally improved since then. Kenya covers 224,960 square miles and is slightly smaller than Texas. The capital is Nairobi. Kenya rises from a low coastal plain on the Indian Ocean in a series of mountain ridges and plateaus which stand above 9,000 feet in the center of the country. The Rift Valley bisects the country above Nairobi, opening up to a broad arid plain in the north. Mountain plains cover the south before descending to the shores of Lake Victoria in the west. The climate varies from the tropical south, west, and central regions to arid and semi-arid in the north and the northeast. The people of Kenya are known as “Kenyans.” Total population is 30 million and growing at 1.7 percent a year. Ethnic groups break down as Kikuyu 21 percent Luhya 14 percent, Luo 13 percent, Kalenjin 11 percent, Kamba 11 percent, Kisii 6 percent, Meru 5 percent. Religious break down is Indigenous beliefs 10 percent, Protestant 40 percent, Roman Catholic 30 percent, Muslim 20 percent. Languages include English, Swahili, and more than 40 local ethnic languages. The literacy rate is 65 percent and life expectancy is 49 years of age. As this brief overview reveals, the country suffers the economic problems of many countries in Africa. That being said, it is beautiful place that will hopefully overcome such hurdles. It is definitely a place you will remember visiting.
For such a tiny total landmass, Japan has left an undeniable stamp on human history. If you are considering Japan as a destination, here is an overview of the country. An Overview of Japan for Travelers Extending along the eastern coast of Asia, Japan is a country consisting of a collection of islands. The mainland, as we think of it, is the island of Honshu. There are three other large islands, Hokkaido, Shikoku, and Kyushu, and roughly 3,000 much smaller islands comprising what we call Japan. Put together, the total land mass is slightly smaller than California. The geography throughout the islands is mountainous, best exemplified by Mt. Fuji at 12,385 feet. As you might expect, the island country is inherently recognition of a volcanic are and Japan experiences earthquakes fairly frequently, some on a large scale. Japan is an extremely urbanized country with most people living in major cities. The two prominent religions are Shintoism and Buddhism. The belief systems are harmonious and often share the same temples. Per legend, Japan was founded by Emperor Jimmu around 600 BC. The current emperor is a descendent of the first. The first interaction with the West was in 1542 when a lost Portuguese ship landed in Japan. Over the next century more Westerns came, but they were not trusted. The Japan shoguns eventually banned all foreigners and the country was isolated for over 200 years. Not until 1854 did Japan open its doors to the world under the Convention of Kanagawa with the United States. Once this occurred, Japan quickly evolved from a feudal state to a more modern approach. World War I was a boon for Japan. Fighting on the side of the victorious Allies, Japan repeated new respect as an economic and military power following the defeat of the Axis. Alas, the emperor of Japan went in a different direction after the war, seeking dominance of China and Asia in general. In 1937, Japan became an ally of Nazi German. This eventually led to its decision to pursue an attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Following four years of war, the loss of 3 million Japanese lives and two atomic bombings, Japan surrendered to the United States on September 2, 1945. It was stripped of most of its territorial holdings and was ruled de facto by General Douglas MacArthur, designated the Supreme Commander. Following World War II, Japan turned to a democratic system through reforms. The U.S. and allies returned complete control to Japan on April 28, 1952 via the Treaty of Peace. Although its days as a military power were over, Japan once again became an economic giant. Despite its relatively tiny land mass, Japan has the second biggest economy in the world. Modern day Japan covers 145,902 square miles. The capital is Tokyo. The terrain is best described as rugged, mountainous islands with varying temperatures. The people of Japan are called “Japanese.” The total population is just over 127.4 million people, but the population is decreasing slightly in size. Japanese is the primarily language spoken and literacy rates are 99 percent. Japanese males have a life expectancy of 77 years while women live to 84 on average. With its mountainous island landscape, Japan is a hot destination spot for travelers. It is expensive, but a visit to Mount Fuji alone makes a trip worthwhile.
Rome, the Winter Olympics, Wine, Ferrari, beautiful beaches – Italy has it all. If you are considering traveling to Italy, here are some things you should know. An Overview of Italy for Travelers From a European perspective, there is little doubt that Italy is the foundation of modern society in the West. This is conclusion is primarily due to two facts, the reign of the Romans and the Roman Catholic Church. In more modern times, Italy became a nation-state in 1861 when the city-states of the peninsula, along with Sardinia and Sicily, were united under King Victor Emmanuel II. An era of parliamentary government came to a close in the early 1920s when Benito Mussolini established a Fascist dictatorship. His disastrous alliance with Nazi Germany led to Italy's defeat in World War II. A democratic republic replaced the monarchy in 1946 and economic revival followed. Italy was a charter member of the European Economic Community. It has been at the forefront of European economic and political unification. Persistent problems include illegal immigration, organized crime, corruption, high unemployment, sluggish economic growth, and the low incomes and technical standards of southern Italy compared to the prosperous north. If you are going to Italy, here are some basic things you need to know. 1. Northern Italy is wealthy while the south is not. 2. Italy is slightly larger than the state of Arizona. 3. Italy's climate is predominantly Mediterranean with Alpine in far north and hot, dry areas in the south. 4. Vatican City in Rome is considered an independent country. 5. You cannot get into any area of the Vatican wearing shorts. 6. Rome had the first paved streets in the world in 170 B.C. Vehicles had to be banned because of traffic jams! 7. Roman gladiators were the first athletes to endorse products. 8. Considered one of the oddest Emperors, Caligula appointed his horse to a senate position among other more infamous actions. 9. Roman statutes were very utilitarian. The heads could be removed and replaced to reflect the changes in political climate. 10. When the Roman army lost a battle, they really took it hard. Commanders would kill every tenth soldier under their command. This act is the root of the word “decimate.” 11. Surprising to many is the fact there were significant time periods where ancient Rome had no Emperor. The senate would rule. In times of threat, the senate would elect a person as Emperor. He had absolute power, giving rise to the term dictator. 12. Vast percentages of Romans died from lead poisoning. They used is as a sweetener! 13. In the early 1900’s, Prince Piero Ginori Conti invented the geothermal pump. He is considered the father of modern geothermal power. 14. 20 Italians have won the Nobel Prize. 15. Michelangelo's real name is Michelangelo Buonarroti. 16. The population of Italy as of 2005 was 58,103,033 people. 17. The flag of Italy was inspired by the French flag brought in 1797 by Napoleon. 18. Lehman Brothers owns seven percent of Ferrari. 19. Italy trails only Brazil in World Cup wins. Italy is an amazing country with colorful, animated people. From ancient culture to a bustling modern country, a trip to Italy is hard to beat.
Germany has experienced a tumultuous history: starting a World War, being divided into two countries and much more. If you are planning a trip, here is some background information you should know. An Overview of Germany for Travelers The official name of the country is the Federal Republic of Germany. Germany covers a landmass of over 135,000 square miles and is about the size of the State of Montana. The capital is Berlin with over 3.5 million residents living within the city borders. Other cities of note include, but are not limited to, Hamburg with 1.7 million residents, Munich with over 1.2 million people, Cologne with just under one million residents, Frankfurt with 640,000 residents, Dortmund with 592,000 people, Stuttgart with 580,000 residents, Dusseldorf with about the same number, Bremen with 540,000 people and Hanover with a population just exceeding 500,000 residents. Put another way, Germany crams a lot of people into a relatively small area. From a terrain perspective, Germany has a bit of everything. The north consists mostly of plains and shoreline, while the center of the country is a fertile basin. The south of the country is primarily mountainous, sharing formations with Switzerland. With this divergent terrain, the climate varies from area to area, but is generally cool with significant periods of rain. Citizens of the Federal Republic of Germany are known as Germans. The most recent population study found the total population exceeded 82 million. The ethnic break down is primarily German, but Danish minorities exist in the north while Slavic minorities can be found in the south. Despite the policies promulgated by Hitler, the country has a strong influx of immigrants with over 7.3 million people qualifying as such. From a religious perspective, Germans are split in two major camps. There are approximately 26 million Protestants and 26 million Roman Catholics. Approximately 3.3 million people consider themselves to be Muslim. The official language of the country is German, although English is spoken in many areas as is Russian and French. Education is compulsory for 10 years and the literacy rate is more than 99 percent. Live expectancy for a German man is 74 years while women live an additional 6 years on average. As this overview reveals, Germany is the home to a lot of good and bad history. As a travel destination, it is remarkable whether you are going to see history or visiting for the World Cup.
Throughout history, France has always played a pivotal role in Europe. From Art to Politics to Architecture, it is a fascinating place. Here is some background information to consider before your trip. An Overview of France for Travelers The official name of the country is the French Republic. The French Republic covers an area of 220,668 square miles. This makes it the largest country in Western Europe, which is about 80 percent the size of Texas for comparison purposes. The capital of France is Paris. Other major cities of note include the port city of Marseille, Lyon, Toulouse, Strasbourg, Nice, Rennes, Lille and Bordeaux in the famous wine region of the same name. If you have ever watched the Tour de France, you know the terrain in France varies from majestic mountain peaks to flat plains to beautiful coast line along the southern and western borders of the country. This gives the country various climatic conditions ranging from very cool in the mountain areas to downright hot in the southern beach locations such as Nice. Citizens of the French Republic are designated with the name French. The total population exceeds 62.4 million with a strong annual growth rate of over 2 percent. Ethnicity is broken down as Celtic and Latin for strong influences of Teutonic, Slavic, North African, Sub-Saharan African, Indochinese and Basque minorities. The strong minority base is due to two facts, a lax immigration policy and the migration of peoples from former colonies of France during its more imperial periods. Despite the massive immigrant influx over time, France is a largely uniform religious society. Over 90 percent of all French claim the Roman Catholic faith as their religion of choice. Strong Muslim population sectors, however, exist and are growing rapidly through immigration. The official language of the country is French and it is also the dominant language used in daily life. The literacy rate for France is over 99 percent, which makes sense given the free, compulsory education system. As this overview of France demonstrates, it has played a major role in European history. This makes it a great travel destination since much of the country has historical value, which you can experience by just walking down the street.
China is often left out of discussions of early civilization which is a mistake since it was one of the first. If you are taking a trip to China, here is some background information your should know. An Overview of China for Travelers The official name of the country is the People's Republic of China. China covers a land mass of over 3.7 million square miles, making it a large country indeed. The capital is Beijing. Other major cities include Shanghai, Tianjin, Shenyang, Wuhan, Guangzhou, Chongqing, Harbin, and Chengdu. With such a massive land area, you can image that there is a wide variety of terrain in the country. Generally, one can find plains, deltas and hills in the east, while mountains, high plateaus and a vast desert exists in the west. The climate ranges from tropical in the far south to arctic cold in the far north on the border with Siberia, Russia. The people of China are known as Chinese. The most recent population study put the total number of Chinese at over 1.3 billion people, more than four times as many people as found in the United States. Population growth, however, has slowed to roughly half a percent annually. The reason for the slow down is very controversial. Concerned about economic strain caused by population growth, China has implemented a policy of allowing for only one child per family with some minor exceptions. Enforcement of this policy is supposedly done through fines, but forced abortions are known to occur despite government policy opposing them. The government hopes to stabilize the population at no more than 1.6 billion people through 2050. The current infant mortality rate is an astonishingly high 25.5 per 1,000 births. Ethnicity in China is a hodgepodge issue given its vast size and long history. Han Chinese is the dominant group, consisting of over 91 percent of the population. This is a very loose group, however, as evidenced by various dialects of language in the country. There are seven major Chinese dialects and literally hundreds of localized dialects. Mandarin is the dominant dialect, spoken by over 70 percent of the population in one form or another. That being said, only 60 percent of the Han Chinese can speak it with the remaining 40 percent speaking other dialects. In addition to Mandarin, languages spoken widely included Turkic, Korean, Uygur, Tibetan and Mongolian. It is often said that people in one part of China can’t communicate with people on the opposite side. From a religious perspective, China is officially atheist. That being said, it takes a lax view towards faiths that work with the government. Buddhism is the largest faith with over 100 million practitioners. Taoism is the second most popular. There is a smattering of Muslim and Christian believers, but nothing significant. As this overview demonstrates, China is huge and unique. This makes it a great travel destination.
Home to hockey, Canada is a country of beautiful cities and wide open spaces. If you are considering taking a trip to the country, here is an overview of some things you might want to know. An Overview of Canada for Travelers The official name of the country is simply Canada. It covers an area of landmass over 3.8 million square miles in size and is the second largest country by square mileage in the world. The capital is Ottawa with a population of over 1.1 million people. Other major cities include Toronto with 4.8 million residents, Montreal with just fewer than 3.5 million people and the beautiful city of Vancouver with a population of roughly 2 million people. With its far northern location, Canada is a country with a cool climate. The farther north one goes, the colder it becomes until artic conditions apply. Citizens of Canada are known as Canadians. The most recent study put the total population at more than 32.4 million Canadians. Of this figure, ethnicity breaks down into a wide variety of groups with no group forming a majority. Specifically, Canadians are comprised of 28 percent British-Irish heritage, 23 percent French, 15 percent general European and a whopping 26 percent are classified as mixed. Following the transfer of Hong Kong from British rule to Chinese, many citizens of Hong Kong immigrated to Canada, particularly the Vancouver area. Religious preferences share the break down found in ethnicity. 44 percent of Canadians claim the Roman Catholic faith as their own, while 29 percent are Protestant. Other Christian and Muslim denominations are claimed by roughly 8 percent of the population. English and French are the languages spoken in Canada. Literacy rates are 99 percent. Average life expectancy for a Canadian man is 77 years while a Canadian woman will live to 82 years of age on average. Canada is a country with an odd segmentation. Whereas most countries tend to be divided towards eastern and western population centers, Canada can be said to be more of a north and south designation. Specifically, most of the population lives along the border with the United States and practically nobody lives in the far north given the cold. Canada tends to be overshadowed by its neighbor to the south. This is unfortunate as the country is beautiful, the people are friendly and life is lived at a comfortable pace.
Located on the European mainland, Belgium often is short-shifted in discussions of Europe. Following is an overview of Belgium for travelers. An Overview of Belgium for Travelers Belgium is located on the coast of the North Sea between Holland, German and France. The name comes from the Belgae, a celtic tribe. Belgium’s geographic location places it at the crossroads of much of Europe, particular in relation to the United Kingdom and mainland Europe. As a result, the country has been heavily influenced by the powers that be in Europe during certain periods of times. You can find aspects of Romans, Celtics, Germanic, French and Spanish influences. Ruled by various European empires, the cities of Bruges, Brussels and Antwerp were major commercial trading posts. They also produced some of the more spectacular artists in Europe, including Eyck and Rubens. In modern times, the country is really three separate states with significant autonomy. The country is divided up into Flemish, Walloon and a smaller Germanic area. The Flemish are Dutch speaking while the Walloon are oriented to French. The divisions between these areas are significant and they have significant autonomy from the federal government. One might argue they are countries unto themselves. The official name of Belgium is the Kingdom of Belgium. The country is located in Western Europe and covers approximately 12,566 square miles. Brussels is the capital of the country and has a population of approximately 922,000 people. The second largest city is Antwerp with 452,000 residents. The people of Belgium are known as Belgians. Total population for the country is 10.4 million with a paltry annual growth rate of less than one half of one percent. The country is divided into three linguistic regions, Flanders, Wallonia and Brussels. French is the dominant language in Wallonia, Dutch in Flanders and German in the Brussels area. Most people of Belgium claim Roman Catholic as their faith, but Protestant, Jewish, Muslim and Anglican communities exist. The literacy rate is 95 percent. Belgium is an odd hodgepodge of influences. That being said, everyone seems to get along in these modern times and Brussels is a major financial center in the Europe.