Flags without countries

flags
Do you recognize this flag? Neither did I. It’s the flag of Lapland. Lapland isn’t a country, but a region in northern Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Russia where the Sámi (Lapps) live. Only Norway recognizes this flag, and it’s flown throughout the country on February 6 to celebrate Sámi National Day.

I discovered this flag in Aberystwyth, Wales, of all places, while walking along the seaside promenade. It was flying proudly in the stiff breeze and caught my attention because I’d never seen it before. Then I noticed a whole line of flags I’d never seen before. A sign explained that because the Welsh so rarely see their flag flying in foreign countries, they decided to fly the flags of various European regions that are seeking autonomy or independence. The display of flags without countries was an interesting lesson in European politics and history. Several are shown in the gallery.

%Gallery-129478%Europe is a patchwork of different languages and cultural groups. Many are subsumed into greater national entities and this causes friction. One of the deepest divides in Europe is between is in Belgium, where Dutch-speaking Flanders in the north and French-speaking Wallonia in the south may very well become two different countries. Luckily this debate has been nonviolent, although not always civil.

Many regions are looking for greater linguistic recognition. France’s strict one-language policy has raised the ire of groups that speak other languages, such as the people of Britanny and Alsace. Some linguistic regions, like Occitania, run across more than one country, further complicating any attempt at greater recognition.

Some independence movements are small, like that in Sardinia, while other are marred by a radical extreme that has undermined the legitimacy of the general movement, like in Corsica and the Basque region.

While none of the flags shown here represent actual nations, they do reflect the feelings of vibrant cultures that enrich Europe. Many of the people who fly these flags probably realize they won’t ever see true independence, and some may not even want it. They fly these flags to show the world who they are. And you never know, when the monument was set up in Aberystwyth, it included the flags of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia, and they’re real nations now!

If you’re interested in flags, check out the amazing Flags of the World website for lots more.

Tour Belgium breweries by bike

A new Belgium bike tour will take you to the country's best breweriesCycling tours continue to grow in popularity as active travelers discover the joys of exploring a destination in a slower, yet very immersive fashion. Riders have the opportunity to take in more scenery, commune with nature, and interact more directly with locals, as they pedal their way through a variety of countries all over the world. But a company called ExperiencePlus! is putting their own spin on the cycling tour, offering travelers a chance to visit the best breweries in Belgium by bike.

Beginning and ending in Brussels, the 8-day tour will feature daily rides of 30 to 45 miles. The route will take the riders into the Flanders region in the first few days, before winding through the French-speaking Wallonia area near the end. Along the way, they’ll sample a number of popular beers in Bruges and visit historic breweries run by Trappist monks in the idyllic countryside. The tour will also pass through historic World War II battlefields as well, giving visitors a chance to experience history of a completely different kind.

Joining the riders will be Jeff Lebesch, founder and former owner of New Belgium Brewing, makers of the popular Fat Tire beers. Lebesch is himself a master beer brewer, and he’ll help introduce the riders to the wide variety of beers they’ll be sampling on the tour.

ExperiencePlus! says that this tour doesn’t require any special cycling skills nor do riders need to be in great shape. The terrain is described as “gentle,” which opens this particular tour up to just about anyone who would like to experience Belgium, and its beer, in a unique way.

I think this sounds like an incredibly fun tour and it sounds like it will appeal to a wide variety of travelers. After all, who doesn’t like bikes and beer? Lets just hope that they give you plenty of time to enjoy the latter before climbing back aboard the former. Make sure you have your travel insurance paid up before setting off on this one folks!

For more on this bikes and beers tour, click here.

[Photo credit: Brosen via WikiMedia Commons]

One for the Road: The Globetrotter’s LogBook Series

Here’s an interesting travel book series from Belgian publisher Morton, Diaz & Cook that I stumbled upon yesterday. There are currently five titles in The Globetrotter’s LogBook series, with a 6th promised to be on the way soon. These stylish souvenir books are meant to be used as journals for recording specific trip information — details on countries of the world, or notes about vaccination and flight records.

But what makes these books special is that they are all a mixture of content and creative space — facts and figures for the traveler are interspersed with blank space to allow for stamps, stickers or personal journey jottings.

The publisher’s most recent title marks a new direction for the series. It is the first one to focus on a particular region of the world — Produced in collaboration with the Flemish Tourist Office, Flander’s Six Divine Cities is a guidebook and traveler notebook dedicated to Antwerp, Bruges, Brussels, Ghent, Leuven and Mechelen. Peppered with maps and color photos, this latest book presents an “at a glance” perspective for 118 sites in the Flanders region. And one corner of each page is reserved for traveler scribbles – memories and moments can be captured and recorded with ease, creating an organically evolving guidebook experience.