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.