“Europe is too crowded,” said a friend of a friend.
“I wouldn’t go there because I love wide open spaces.”
To which I cocked my head curiously and gestured to the wide, quiet forest Chad and I were walking through while he told me the story.
“Yes,” I said, half-smiling. “So many crowds here.”
And we stopped. Listened to the rustling leaves, the river a few yards to our right, the birds zipping around the treetops.
I suppose if all you know of Europe is photos of Barcelona’s locals marching against the too-destructive influx of tourists or the hours-long lines at the Vatican in summer, you’d think that Europe was a crowded continent, teeming with people on every square inch.
While Europe certainly does have its share of cities, just like any other continent, it’s also got its fair share of wilderness.
In fact, the wilderness is one of the things I love most about Europe.
Because not only is there plenty of it. Plenty of forested paths and mountaintop lookouts, muddy riverbed hiking trails, hidden waterfalls. But it’s easily accessible.
From the Swiss town I lived in, it took me five minutes to get onto a hiking trail and into the quiet forest.
In Freiburg, Germany, my apartment was two blocks from the famed, quiet Black Forest.
From our pretty perch on northern Slovenia’s Lake Jasna, we were a three-minute bike ride from town and a five-minute walk from an utterly quiet series of mountain trails.
And none of those trails were overcrowded.
None were shoulder-to-shoulder with tourists.
No. For much of my time on Slovenia’s walking trails and cycling paths, I was perfectly alone. I’d see maybe one or two other hikers per hour. A few more if we were on a popular track. Quite a few less the day I hiked straight up the nearby mountain.
So I smile ironically at the story about the friend of a friend who has decided without a single visit that Europe is simply “too crowded” to enjoy.
And I keep hiking through the quiet toward whatever hidden natural wonders the mountains have to offer.
All photos taken with my Sony a6000.