Felicity Long
Felicity Long

When I first started writing about my love affair with Europe years ago, I never dreamed I would spend so much time focusing on safety. Back in the day, Europe wasn't a hot spot.

"The Troubles" in Northern Ireland were already relegated to history, and intermittent separatist activities by the ETA in the Basque region were on the wane and rarely affected tourists anyway.

Even the downing of Pan Am flight 103 in 1988 and the 2004 Madrid and 2005 London train bombings were seen as very much the exception rather than the rule.

That was then.

High profile terrorist attacks in Europe have become unnervingly frequent of late, so much so that some travelers have become wary of destinations like France and Germany that used to top their wish lists.

As 2016 limps to a close, grim news of the Berlin Christmas Market attack, the assassination of the Russian ambassador in Ankara and the mosque shooting in Zurich are painful reminders that this new, complicated Europe has - at least for now - become the new normal.

But in the spirit of the holidays, the New Year and new beginnings, those of us who can't imagine not traveling in Europe can take heart in a number of factors.

For one thing, bargain hunters are finding much to celebrate in the strength of the dollar against the euro. At press time, one euro was worth $1.04 compared to just over $1.30 at the start of 2015.

And thanks to upstart airlines like WOW and Norwegian, transatlantic air fares are so low, it's like the 1980's all over again. A recent search came up with multiple roundtrip fares under $500, depending on the dates and destination.

The emergence of destinations like Albania, Romania, and Lithuania are luring travelers to beautiful countries that, not so long ago, were out of reach to westerners.

Meanwhile, established cities are upping their game with special events and new attractions. Bordeaux, France, for example, is giddy over its newest blockbuster attraction, the Cite du Vin, a wine and cultural center, that opened amid much buzz in June 2016.

In Germany, 2017 will mark the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation, with Martin Luther-themed events in destinations throughout the country, especially in Wittenberg, Eisenach and Erfurt.

In Switzerland, the new, much heralded Gotthard Base Tunnel, which opened Dec. 11, is a game changer for tourists looking to travel from north to south of the country via the longest train tunnel in the world.

Of course, these enticements don't cancel out potential risks inherent in travel in today's world.

On Nov. 21 a State Department Travel Alert warned of "the heightened risk of terrorist attacks throughout Europe, particularly during the holiday season," and exhorted U.S. citizens to "exercise caution at holiday festivals, events, and outdoor markets."

Clearly, and unfortunately, this warning, set to expire Feb. 20, proved to be highly accurate.

That said, it doesn't hurt to keep perspective. According to the Global Terrorism Database, 32 Americans were killed worldwide in terrorist attacks in 2014 (its most recent figures) and excluding deaths in Afghanistan and Iraq), versus say, 32,675  killed in car accidents that same year, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.  

Certainly, the possibility of being a target is scary, but that's the whole point of terrorism - to make us terrified. In the end, only we can decide whether we want to give the bad guys the gift of our fear. 

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