Flags without countries

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.

Four lesser-known Eurozone islands

With the euro continuing its crash against the US dollar, Europe is shaping us this summer and fall to be relatively inexpensive for Americans on the ground. Here are four islands that get little media or guidebook coverage yet offer volumes of quaint, picturesque charm. All use the euro as official currency, and are thus all markedly cheaper for Americans than they were last summer.

To entice your budget-minded enthusiasm, a mid-range accommodation option is paired with each destination.

1. Porquerolles, France.

The dreamily quiet Porquerolles, with its bouquet of aquamarine inlets, can be reached by ferry from the town of Hyères, near Toulon. The largest of the three islands of the Hyères archipelago, Porquerolles is largely protected as a national park. There are a number of very expensive hotels on the island, to which the mid-range Hotel Le Méditerranée, with double rooms starting at €98 per night in high season, provides a fairly-priced alternative.

2. Fasta Åland, Finland.

The semi-autonomous Swedish-speaking Åland islands, located between mainland Sweden and mainland Finland in the Gulf of Bothnia, are part of Finland. Fasta Åland, the largest island in the group, can be reached by ferry and air from Helsinki, Stockholm, and Turku. Mariehamn, the island’s capital, has cute lanes and museums to offer. Reasonably-priced accommodations can be found at Hotell Esplanad in Mariehamn, with high-season double rooms from €73.

3. San Domino, Italy.

The largest tourist attraction within Italy’s Tremiti archipelago, San Domino is a picturesque island covered with pine trees and studded with beautiful coves. San Domino is located about two-thirds of the way down the Adriatic coast and can be reached by ferry from the coastal port town of Tremoli. Albergo La Pineta charges between €45 and €75 per person for room and half-board between now and the end of September. Avoid the first three weeks of August and you won’t pay more than €65 per person per night.

4. Vlieland, Netherlands.

Wind-whipped Vlieland, one of the Netherlands’ atmospheric Frisian islands, can be reached by ferry from the city of Harlingen on the mainland. The island restricts car ownership to residents, and the streets are accordingly full of pedestrians and bicyclists. The island is one of the least densely-populated municipalities in the country, and there are forests, sand dunes, and beaches to explore. The Hotelletje de Veerman offers a sea-facing double room with terrace or balcony for €50 per person per night.

(Image of Porquerolles: Flickr/sgustin78)