Innsbruck sits in a valley with mountains to its north and south and the Inn River running through it. Just on the other side of those mountains is Germany to the north and Italy to the south. With relatively accessible mountain passes in both directions and a bridge across the Inn River (thus the name “Innsbruck”), this town became a very important trade route. Innsbruck is the capital of the Austrian Federal State of Tirol (or Tyrol). This region was much larger but the area of South Tirol was ceded to Italy at the conclusion of World War I.
In Switzerland German is the primary language in the eastern 2/3 of the country and this includes the city of Lucerne. Lucerne has been described as perhaps the prettiest city in Switzerland and we can confirm that it is quite appealing. Like Geneva, Lucerne sits on a beautiful lake that bears its name and the Reuss River runs through the city.
Geneva is surrounded on three sides by France and its Lake Geneva is shared with France. The primary language is French but Geneva is a very international city with approximately 46% of the population being foreign born. This is mostly due to the raft of international organizations that either make their home here or have a substantial presence, such as the United Nations, the World Bank, the World Trade Organization and the headquarters for the International Red Cross which was founded here in 1863.
Once again, we began our visit to Barcelona with a walking tour. We were told that Romans founded the city in 38 B.C. In the first 200 years they built a walled city that defined the boundaries of Barcelona for the next 1600 years! During this time they had to build higher since they could not build out, given that they could not extend the city beyond the walls. Not until the mid-1850’s did they break out of their medieval walls. People were dying very young from disease caused by the overcrowding. Previously unknown engineer Ildefons Cerda created a plan for the expanded city that turned out to be extraordinarily visionary ultimately leading to him being credited as having defined “urbanization”.
Barcelona is part of Catalonia, an “autonomous community” in the northeast corner of Spain. It is also referred to as a nationality for the people in this region who for centuries have been agitating for the creation of an independent state for Catalonia. Before the 18th century it was a principality of the Crown of Aragon with its own language. Today, Catalan, along with Spanish is the official language of this region.
From Madrid we took a train southeast to the Mediterranean coast and the city of Valencia, Spain’s 3rd largest city. The city was founded in 138 BC by Roman soldiers looking for a place for rest and relaxation. During the 15th and 16th centuries, Valencia was one of the Mediterranean’s strongest trading centers.