UNESCO World Heritage Sites

On the Europe trip we visited several places designated as “UNESCO World Heritage Sites” such as the Naeroyfjord region of Norway, The Jungfrau / Aletsch Glacier in Switzerland, and the Cinque Terre in Italy,  but I was only vaguely familiar with how those designations come to be.     Here is the list of all 890 global heritage sites and more from UNESCO about the process.

I’m still wondering how much the process is political and subjective vs analytical and objective, but in general I do think it’s neat to designate areas in this fashion and encourage travelers to better understand and explore their world.

Here are the criteria:

Selection criteria:

  1. to represent a masterpiece of human creative genius;
  2. to exhibit an important interchange of human values, over a span of time or within a cultural area of the world, on developments in architecture or technology, monumental arts, town-planning or landscape design;
  3. to bear a unique or at least exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition or to a civilization which is living or which has disappeared;
  4. to be an outstanding example of a type of building, architectural or technological ensemble or landscape which illustrates (a) significant stage(s) in human history;
  5. to be an outstanding example of a traditional human settlement, land-use, or sea-use which is representative of a culture (or cultures), or human interaction with the environment especially when it has become vulnerable under the impact of irreversible change;
  6. to be directly or tangibly associated with events or living traditions, with ideas, or with beliefs, with artistic and literary works of outstanding universal significance. (The Committee considers that this criterion should preferably be used in conjunction with other criteria);
  7. to contain superlative natural phenomena or areas of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance;
  8. to be outstanding examples representing major stages of earth’s history, including the record of life, significant on-going geological processes in the development of landforms, or significant geomorphic or physiographic features;
  9. to be outstanding examples representing significant on-going ecological and biological processes in the evolution and development of terrestrial, fresh water, coastal and marine ecosystems and communities of plants and animals;
  10. to contain the most important and significant natural habitats for in-situ conservation of biological diversity, including those containing threatened species of outstanding universal value from the point of view of science or conservation.

Vernazza in Cinque Terre Italy 310

Vernazza in Cinque Terre Italy 310

Originally uploaded by JoeDuck

Not sure if I already blogged this picture, but the place I can’t stop thinking about on our Europe trip is Vernazza and the Cinque Terre. It really was a beautiful combination of scenery, solitude, great food, and old world charm that is hard to find, especially in the big cities where the frantic pace combines with the dirt and grime to make things interesting and stimulating, but not very relaxing.

I want to throw in a few tips for others travelling in Italy by train:

1. Italy seemed to have a greater number of late trains than other countries, so keep this in mind if you have tight connections. If there are frequent trains to your destination this won’t be a problem, but probably best to allow at least an hour transfer time if at all possible if you have “essential” connections such as for overnight trains.

2. Note that sometimes the “R” on timetables or other papers means “regional” rather than “reservation required”.

3. (NOT SURE ABOUT THIS AT ALL BUT….) Rail pass holders may be able to get on “Reservation Required” trains without a reservation if you are willing to stand up or sit in isles. Still not clear about this but some Canadians were doing this on a long stretch from La Spetzia to Rome after they were unable to get reservations.

4. In my opinion first class was generally not worth the extra fees we paid for those reservations. For example the wonderful X2000 trains in Sweden had a Eurail Supplement of 17 Euros for first class but only 7 euros for second class. This was nice and included free internet, fruit, coffee, and nicer seats, but for a 3.5 hour trip most people would probably be fine in second class and with the family this meant an extra 40 euros I could have better spent elsewhere.

5. Supplement fees will add up. Eurail passes do NOT cover reservation and supplement fees and you’ll run into a lot of those across the continent. Also, your cost for beds on overnight trains is not included with a Eurail pass. Expect about 3-10 Euros per trip reservation fees, and about 35 Euros per person for a “couchette” bed on overnight trains. More on train couchettes and overnight trains later.

Note: A special thanks to Eurail for the passes we used to take 26 trains from Norway to Italy and back on our amazing European Railroad Family Adventure.


Although we had a wonderful trip to Europe, with fewer problems and more great moments than I expected, it’s so great to be back in lovely Oregon USA.    Free water and free clean public bathrooms are only part of the charm and appeal.    Yesterday I headed down to our local grocery to pick up a few items and the conspicuous low prices compared to Europe were really remarkable.   I’ll never complain about US food prices again.    In Norway you can spend 80 on a single buffet meal, where here in the USA that will buy a *better* buffet meal for a whole family.       Norway was beautiful and I really enjoyed our stay, but the sticker shock of $12 for a hamburger and coke did detract a bit from the charm of that amazing country.    Norway is often listed as the best place in the world to live – I think in large part due to superb free health care and  free education systems – but one wonders how well those metrics include the benefits one enjoys from the dollar menu at McDonald’s and ubiquitous refrigerated water fountains.

Europe’s a great place to visit, but I’m glad to be living …. right here.

Health Care Costs

Most of the European health care systems provide about the same care as the US at about half the cost.   This is extraordinary when you think about it, especially because  we in the US pride ourselves on innovation and cost effectiveness.    What’s up with this?    Still not at all clear to me, but I think a major part of our problem is our … freedom to choose combined with our political spending craziness.   When you ask people about allocating risks they tend to very foolishly think we should have “no risks” or at the least always be working to reduce risks.    This is not rational – we should actually be increasing some risks in our health care system when this increase in risk would lower the costs.    For example rather than spending a huge sum on care for a patient in a coma with a very low chance of recovery we should allocate the money to improving inner city ambulance service times.      These types of decisions should be  practical / institutional / cost driven and not left to stressed individuals in hospital settings as we tend to do in USA.      It’ll take a lot more research to figure out the answer to my question however, which is how in the heck we can spend so much to get the same outcomes!

Here’s a nice article from Kaiser about the spiralling costs of US care, indicating that half the costs are now from hospital care: http://www.kaiseredu.org/topics_im.asp?imID=1&parentID=61&id=358

In France the pharmacy can prescribe antibiotics and other medications from easy to diagnose conditions.    This is a great cost innovation and I’m looking into why we don’t do this here, forcing patients to involve a high cost doctor when this is not needed at all for many ailments.

Europe versus USA

One of the things that always strikes me during travel is how insulated we are in the USA from the rest of the world. Some of this is geographical – ie the USA is a huge country and folks don’t often move across national borders unless you are in the handful of cities that border Mexico or Canada. But even then the interactions are not like those in Europe where folks seem to maintain a sense of national identity as well as a mutual European identity. Not to suggest Europe does not have it’s share of problems, rather I just think it’s interesting to see a group of countries interacting so effectively and cooperatively with respect to so many things (Currency, trains, trade, border controls, etc, etc). However I think our isolation in the USA is more cultural and historical than geographical. As the key global power since WWII, it’s been far too easy to ignore how interconnected the world has become, and how impossible it is to isolate ourselves economically, militarily, and culturally. Finding the best (and free) Wifi at the Burger King in Munich, we sat watching Musit TV clips which were about half German rock stars and half USA. All over we’d hear the radios playing US pop and rock, and I was struck by how despite all the US economic and military presence all over the world, arguably the most powerful part of globalization is … US pop culture.

 …. to be continued …

(the Europe trip coverage will mostly be here:  www.TravelandHistory.com

Copenhagen – Govt Building in City Square.


Originally uploaded by JoeDuck

Writing from Oslo, Norway: Four countries and three trains and two days from Venice we’ve made it up to Oslo and will fly back to PDX tomorrow. It’s been harder than I expected to keep up with the blogging so I’ll be doing a lot over the coming weeks to organize the trip pictures and posts:


Thanks to Eurail Pass for helping to sponsor this adventure – it’s been amazing.

Copenhagen – Govt Building in City Square.


Originally uploaded by JoeDuck

Writing from Oslo, Norway: Four countries and three trains and two days from Venice we’ve made it up to Oslo and will fly back to PDX tomorrow. It’s been harder than I expected to keep up with the blogging so I’ll be doing a lot over the coming weeks to organize the trip pictures and posts:


Thanks to Eurail Pass for helping to sponsor this adventure – it’s been amazing.

Europe Rail Blogging Adventure

The family and I are well into our Europe Rail blogging adventure and things are going fairly smoothly with only a few hundred exceptions, most in magnificent Italy where the spectacular history is a bit eclipsed by the confusion of getting around and getting good information.

Read more about the trip at www.TravelandHistory.com

Thanks to Eurail Pass , we have nearly unlimited train travel available to us for the trip and I think we’ve made good use of that generosity, though I’m hoping the long haul back from Venice to Munich to Oslo is easier than our long haul south, when Julia was sick and we made the mistake of having one night train without beds.   Both nights up will be in the four bed “Couchettes”, which the kids enjoyed before.