Tag Archives: Belgium

Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont has fled the country amid rebellion charges

Ousted Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont has left Spain and travelled to Brussels, Spanish government officials have said.

Mr Puigdemont is facing sedition charges from the Spanish government after Catalonia declared independence under his leadership.

The move comes after Belgium’s asylum and migration affairs minister Theo Francken said the former president could seek asylum in the country.

Continue reading Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont has fled the country amid rebellion charges

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EXCLUSIVE: Belgian Intelligence Had Precise Warning That Airport Targeted for Bombing

Attack in subway likely also known in advance by Belgian and Western agencies; attack plan was formulated at de-facto ISIS capital of Raqqa, in Syria.

The Belgian security services, as well as other Western intelligence agencies, had advance and precise intelligence warnings regarding the terrorist attacks in Belgium on Tuesday, Haaretz has learned.
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The security services knew, with a high degree of certainty, that attacks were planned in the very near future for the airport and, apparently, for the subway as well.

Despite the advance warning, the intelligence and security preparedness in Brussels, where most of the European Union agencies are located, was limited in its scope and insufficient for the severity and immediacy of the alert.

As far as is known, the attacks were planned by the headquarters of the Islamic State (ISIS) in Raqqa, Syria, which it has pronounced as the capital of its Islamic caliphate.

The terror cell responsible for the attacks in Brussels on Tuesday was closely associated with the network behind the series of attacks in Paris last November. At this stage, it appears that both were part of the same terrorist infrastructure, connected at the top by the terrorist Salah Abdeslam, who was involved in both the preparation for the Paris attacks and its implementation.

Abdeslam escaped from Paris after the November attacks, hid out in Brussels and was arrested last week by the Belgian authorities.
Abdeslam’s arrest was apparently the trigger for Tuesday’s attacks, due to the concern in ISIS that he might give information about the planned attacks under interrogation, particularly in the light of reports that he was cooperating with his captors.

The testimony of the detained terrorist, alongside other intelligence information, part of which concerned ISIS operations in Syria, should have resulted in much more stringent security preparedness in crowded public places in Brussels, along with a heightened search for the cell.

As of now, the search is focused on the terrorist Najim Laachraoui, who created the explosive vests used by the bombers and escaped from the airport at the last moment.

There is concern, however, that other cells connected to ISIS in Western Europe will attempt to carry out additional attacks in the near future, either in Belgium or in other countries involved in the war against the terror organization in Syria and Iraq.

At least 31 people were killed and 260 wounded in the terrorist bombings at the Brussels airport and in the subway system on Tuesday. Responsibility for the attacks was claimed by ISIS.

Belgian authorities have named the two airport attackers as brothers Ibrahim and Khalid El Bakraoui. Laachraoui, who was photographed with the brothers at the airport and was observed fleeing the scene, is the subject of a massive manhunt.

The Belgium Question: Why Is a Small Country Producing So Many Jihadists?

Relative to its population, no other country in Europe sends as many young...

Relative to the size of its population, no other country in Europe sends as many young jihadists to Syria as Belgium does. But why? Some say one problem lies with the fractured nature of the country itself.

Chantal Lebon last saw her son at a bus stop in Brussels. That was two years ago in October “at exactly 10:25 p.m.,” she says. Abdel had driven his mother there in a car, stopped in a parking spot and lifted her suitcase onto the sidewalk.

“Au revoir, maman,” he said. “Au revoir, mon fils,” she replied. It was only months later that she would again see her son’s face — in a YouTube video. It showed him wearing a Palestinian keffiyeh and holding a Kalashnikov. The video was stamped with the flag used by the Islamic State in Syria.

Chantal Lebon is a small, energetic 64-year-old retired nursery school teacher with blue eyes and graying hair. She has come to a café to tell us the story of her son Abdel, the story of a Belgian child who became a radical Islamist fighter at the age of 23. Abdel had nothing to do with the attack plans in Belgium, his mother says. But, she confirms, her son is a jihadist.

On the way to the Brussels café, she saw the soldiers standing guard in front of police stations, court houses and the city hall. The Belgian government raised the country’s terror alert to the second highest level after officials were able to foil attacks targeting police and Jewish schools earlier this month.

At the European Parliament, events with more than 100 foreign guests have been banned and a military vehicle guards the entrance to the European Commission.

Since Jan. 15, the day two potential attackers died in Verviers during a police raid and the terror threat in the country became obvious to all, much has changed in Belgium.

Thirteen terror suspects have been arrested in the country this month, but the suspected ringleader of the alleged attack plans, a 27-year-old named Abdelhamid Abaaoud, remains at large and is thought to be in Greece. “I pray that Allah destroys all those who oppose Him,” he said in a video. Like Chantal Lebon’s son, Abaaoud also lived in Molenbeek, a district in western Brussels.

Because she is worried that her son Abdel could be behind the next terror plot in Belgium, she would rather remain anonymous and her name, as well as that of her son, has been changed for this story.

Belgian police block a street in central Verviers during the anti-terror raids...

Tiny Belgium and the Jihad

Up to 4,000 Europeans have joined the jihad in Syria, with 1,200 of them coming from France and between 500 and 600 each from Great Britain and Germany according to the most recent estimates by the International Centre for the Study of Radicalization in London.

Tiny Belgium, with its population of 11 million, has sent fully 440 young men to the battlefields of Aleppo, Homs and Damascus. Relative to population size, no other Western European country has sent more.

Abdel grew up with his family in the Arabic quarter of Molenbeek. The Brussels region provides home to people from over 100 different countries: from Congo and Morocco, but also increasingly from the Middle East or Chechnya.

New immigrants arrive in a traditionally Catholic country whose Jewish and Muslim communities are growing — and a state that has been suffering from extremely high sovereign debt levels since the mid-1980s.

Abdel didn’t grow up in poverty — his father was a teacher — nor did he have any problems in school. But because his father is from Africa, he is dark skinned and his mother said he never really felt like he belonged as a result. Furthermore, other children made fun of him.

In the aftermath of the terror raids, Belgium raised its terror threat level...

Once he got his high school diploma, he moved into an apartment of his own, though his mother came by regularly to clean. It was then that he told her that he had converted to Islam and she noticed he had begun learning Arabic. His room was suddenly full of books and his mother was initially pleased because it seemed as though her son was pursuing something worthwhile.

But Abdel’s changes became increasingly pronounced. Before long, he began wearing a djellaba, the robe traditionally worn in the Maghreb, and when visiting his mother, he would use the bathroom carpet for praying. He no longer touched his favorite food, lasagna, because the meat wasn’t halal.

On Saturdays, he would take to the streets to hand out food to the poor. “Mother, please convert to Islam too,” he often asked, she says, “so that we will meet again in paradise.”

Never Complained

His mother pulls a tablet out of her bag to show the YouTube video. Five men with the black Islamic State flag are seen standing in a parched landscape.

One of the fighters says: “God willing, we will carry the flag of victory to Jerusalem and into the White House. God willing, this man from Belgium will show us what a good Muslim is.” Abdel looks happy in the video.

Abdel’s mother says he would call from time to time, saying that he was engaged in humanitarian aid in Syria. He also told her of friends who had been killed, but he never complained, she says.

Eventually, Abdel’s mother stopped asking when he planned on returning. Her son also told her about air strikes carried out by the US. And at the end of December, he said: “Because the telephone is being monitored, it is too dangerous to talk, mama.” He then hung up and they haven’t spoken since.

In Molenbeek, where Abdel used to live, the streets are full on this evening. Groups of men stand in front of the cafés and a vegetable seller is packing up his tomatoes. Here, on the fourth floor of a narrow row house, Montasser AlDe’emeh opens the door. AlDe’emeh has become a popular interview partner of late for those wanting to know why Belgium is losing its youth to the jihad.

Twenty-six years old, AlDe’emeh was born to Palestinian parents in a refugee camp in Jordan, but grew up in Molenbeek. He majored in Islamic studies in college and is currently writing his dissertation: “Western Fighters in the Context of International Jihadism.” There is likely no other academic in Belgium who is closer to the scene than he is.

“We are living in a divided country,” AlDe’emeh says. Many young Muslims lack an identity, he says, adding that they don’t feel Belgian because Belgium as a country doesn’t really exist. Flemish, Walloons and the German minority live side-by-side, he says, carefully segregated in regions and language communities following myriad state reform efforts. “The clear structures of an Islamic theocracy are thus more attractive for many,” he says.

Belgium has been in the spotlight this month after raids on Jan. 15 broke up an...

Nutella in Turkey

Furthermore, most Muslims in the country don’t really feel as though they are represented politically. They used to vote for the Flemish Social Democrats, AlDe’emeh says, but then the government implemented a ban on wearing the burqa and niqab in public.

Today, the influx of radical Islamists is particularly significant in Flemish cities like Antwerp, Mechelen and Vilvoorde in addition to Brussels. It is precisely the same region where the right-wing populist party Vlaams Belang has spent years hounding the Muslim population.

Islam, as practiced in Belgium, is also failing to reach young people, AlDe’emeh says. There are 150 mosques in Flanders, but Arabic is spoken in almost all of them, he says, a language that second-generation immigrant youth can’t understand. Instead, they stumble across hate preachers on YouTube and see the suffering of people in Syria. “They travel to Syria to heal themselves,” AlDe’emeh says.

In June 2013, he visited a group of Belgian jihadists in Syria; a middleman brought him to the western part of Aleppo. The Belgians were living there in a villa belonging to Syrians who had fled the country. AlDe’emeh spent 15 days with the fighters, who belonged to the Islamist group al-Nusra Front.

During the day, they patrolled the front lines and afterwards they would sit on pillows holding their AK-47s and talk about the fight against Bashar Assad. In the evenings, they went swimming or snuck across the border into Turkey to buy Nutella.

The structures inside the al-Nusra Front, AlDe’emeh says, are hierarchical. There is an emir who grants permission to those, like AlDe’emeh himself, who wish to visit. Beneath him are the regional heads who are responsible for specific provinces. They, in turn, control commanders who are responsible for Syrian and Western fighters.

“Everyone knew exactly what he was supposed to do,” AlDe’emeh says. “The Belgians were in good spirits. They liked the structures.” Likely also because al-Nusra, similar to Islamic State, made young men like Abdel full-fledged members of a nation, fictional though it may be.

One of the suspects in the Sharia4Belgium trial arrives in the courthouse in...

Dreaming of Lasagna

In the search for a sense of belonging, many Muslims joined Sharia4Belgium, a terror group that is currently the target of judicial proceedings in Antwerp. Forty-six alleged members of the organization have been charged, all suspected of having recruited fighters in Belgium for the jihad in Syria or of fighting there themselves.

They also stand accused of having kept the US journalist James Foley prisoner. He was later decapitated by Islamic State. A verdict in the case is expected to come in February.

SPIEGEL was able to speak with one of the group’s members by telephone. His name is Younes Delefortrie, a 26-year-old who was born in Belgium and who speaks perfect English.

He says he spent two months in Homs, but insists that he didn’t kill anybody. He says he joined Sharia4Belgium because he was uninterested in an Islam that didn’t take its own rules seriously.

In Belgium, Delefortrie says, he felt discriminated against, specifically complaining that he hadn’t been allowed to pray at work.

He also said that there were so many regulations pertaining to the construction of mosques that when they were finished, they looked like garages. “If you spend years pounding on someone, it is only logical that he fights back,” Delefortrie says.

Abdel’s mother says that she now regularly meets in Brussels with 15 other mothers whose sons are also fighting in Syria. They met on the day after the attack on Charlie Hebdo in Paris. Abdel’s mother told the gathered women of a dream she had had after seeing so much blood on the television. “I saw my son walking on a street in Paris. He wasn’t carrying a weapon. He was peaceful.” In the dream, Abdel then came home. He sat down silently in the kitchen and put his hands on the table. She went over to the stove and cooked him his favorite meal. Lasagna.

Europe Takes Over Putin TV

Europe Is Seizing Russian State Assets

Assets from state media seized after Kremlin refuses to pay $50 billion in civil damages.

In what is arguably the most significant move against Russian wealth and influence in Europe, Belgium, France and Austria today all froze various assets belonging Russian state-owned enterprises in connection to civil case the Kremlin lost a year ago and for which it has refused to ante up damages.

The winner of that case, Yukos, once Russia’s largest oil company, was awarded $50 billion in July 2014 after an international arbitration court found that it had had its own assets expropriated by the Russian government over a decade ago.

The freeze affects the state wire service TASS, the state media holding company Rossiya Segodnya, and other state media abroad.

“We are working on this issue within the framework of a common government policy,” TASS said in a press statement, refusing to provide more details.

Gazeta.ru learned that court notices about the freeze were received at TASS editorial bureaus in Belgium and France.

Margarita Simonyan, editor-in-chief of Rossiya Segodyna, which publishesRT.com, told Gazeta.ru the situation with her company was similar. “The arrest was place on our account in France,” she said.

“As for the other countries, after the situation in France, the company was concerned to take measures not to allow the halt of our radio and online broadcasting work there.”

Simonyan, however, disputed the account of the freeze given by Russian Forbes, which initially claimed that properties were frozen. She confirmed to Forbes.ruwhat Gazeta.ru also reported, that it was RT’s bank account in France that was frozen, not any property.

Simonyan went a long Twitter tirade today against the magazine, demanding it issue a correction or retraction to its claim. In a press statement, she said that “neither RT nor its subsidiaries own buildings in France…

Furthermore, RT is an autonomous non-commercial organization which is not a Russian state institution. they have not made any claims to RT in this case.”

But Forbes.ru has not changed its story, although it currently contains some quotes from Simonyan, which apparently were added after the piece first broke. She claimed that Russia state media had taken precautions earlier to prevent just such blocking of their broadcasting abroad, although she declined to reveal the details.

Meanwhile, Tim Osborne, the head of Group Menatep Ltd, the holding company for Yukos, confirmed the asset seizures to Forbes:

“According to my information, it’s a question of seizure of a building in which the television channel RT (the former Russia Today) is located in Paris, said Osborne. There are also several buildings in Paris which are the property of the Russian Federation, and that is one of them, he explained. Furthermore, in the event that the television channel does not pay damages to the government, it will also be frozen. Regarding the salary of employees, Osborne explained that the freeze would not affect them since they are employees and not property of the state.”

“[I]n the event that the television channel does not pay damages to the government, it will also be frozen.”

Meanwhile, Andrei Kostin, head of state-controlled VTB Bank, said that a week ago, accounts of Russia companies and diplomatic missions were frozen at his bank’s French subsidiary. The accounts of the missions were then unfrozen in keeping with the Vienna Convention but the rest of the properties were seized.

European authorities have cast a wide net with their determination to freeze Russian assets, and some are arguing that it may be too wide.

Aleksandr Mineyev, Novaya Gazeta‘s correspondent in Brussels, said a process-server came to his door this morning and served him notice that he must report any Russian Federation state property or funds in his possession. He explained that Novaya Gazeta, an independent non-state paper, doesn’t have any Russian state assets.

Attached to the notice was a list of all the other persons served, including Aeroflot, the archbishop of the Russian Orthodox Church in Brussels and the Belgian Orthodox church and other non-governmental media. Diplomatic missions were excluded. The document stated that the court notices were from a Belgian arbitration court regarding the Yukos judgment.

Since the Russian government had not responded to the judgement in more than a year, authorities were freezing Russian assets, the notice said.

Mineyev said many in the list were not Russian organizations, but banks or other institutions such as insurance companies or Eurocontrol, which manages air traffic control in Europe, that might have Russian accounts.

The Belgian court cited a decision from the European Court of Human Rights which demanded that the Russian Federation submit a plan to pay all the sums indicated in its decision and to make the payments no later than June 15, 2015.

Yukos was founded by former political prisoner and businessman Mikhail Khodorkovsky who is today a major critic of Vladimir Putin. Khodorkovsky was arrested in 2003 and convicted of theft and tax evasion in 2005. He ultimately served 10 years in jail before being pardoned by Putin over a year ago.

And while he was not a plaintiff or beneficiary in the arbitration case, he nonetheless welcomed the asset freezes today in a tweet reading, “Happy over the arrests of property of our bureaucracy in Belgium. I expect that the funds recovered will go to projects useful for Russian society.”

Yukos, once worth $40 billion, was broken up and nationalized, with most assets handed to Rosneft, headed by Putin crony Igor Sechin. Rosneft has been placed under E.U. and U.S. sanctions for its role in the Ukrainian war, and Sechin has been additionally sanctioned by the U.S.

(Note: This article is adapted from two posts published at The Interpreter, an online translation and analysis journal sponsored by the Institute of Modern Russia, which Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s son heads.)

Hungarian “Father Of The Euro” Alexandre Lámfalussy Dies

Lámfalussy Sándor

Alexandre Lámfalussy, the Hungarian-born economist and banker known as the “father of the euro”, has died aged 87, his family has disclosed.

Born Sándor Lámfalussy on 26 April 1929 in Kapuvár, western Hungary, the world-famous economist left Hungary in 1949 to live in Belgium, and he subsequently took up Belgian citizenship.

Often called the “father of the euro” for his major role in creating the common European currency, he took part in devising the European Monetary Union’s implementation plan as a member of the Delors Commission (1988-89).

Between 1994 and 1997, he served as the first president of the Frankfurt-based European Monetary Institute, forerunner of the European Central Bank.

From 2000 to 2001, he chaired the Committee of Wise Men on the Regulation of European Securities Markets. whose proposals were adopted by the Council of the European Union in 2001.

As chairman of the committee, he overshaw the creation of the Lámfalussy process, an approach to the development of financial service industry regulation  used most famously in MiFID – the Markets in Financial Instruments Directive.

He is survived by four children.

Mexican Drug Cartels Expand Reach In Peru

LIMA, Peru — When police here unearthed nearly 8 tons of cocaine — a national record — hidden inside lumps of coal late last month, it was little surprise that two Mexican citizens were also arrested.

The brutal Mexican cartels that control the drug routes from remote Andean villages where raw coca plants grow to the world’s largest consumer market, the United States, are known to have been present in Peru since the 1990s.

Nevertheless, the haul found in a small seafront warehouse in Huanchaco, a fishing village known for its surfing on Peru’s northern coast, stood out for another reason: It was bound not for the US but, in two separate shipments, for Spain and Belgium.

“What is surprising is that this implies a change in the criminal map,” said Peru’s former anti-drug czar Ricardo Soberon. “For Mexicans to be running drugs from Peru to Europe, without it ever going anywhere near Mexico — wow!”

There may be little mystery about the Mexicans’ motivations, which appear rooted in basic economics.

“The European market is more profitable than the American market,” notes Flavio Mirella, the head of the Peru branch of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. “Demand pushes supply.”

That is largely a reflection of street prices. One gram of cocaine in Europe cost on average $191 in 2010, according to Mirella’s agency, compared to $169 in the US.

Little has been revealed about the two Mexicans arrested, beyond their names, Ruben Larios Cabadas and Jhoseth Gutierrez Leon. Police say they are suspected members of Mexico’s Sinaloa cartel, in Peru to oversee the European shipments by two companies, Carboniferas Alfa & Omega and Betas Andinas del Peru.

Mexicans suspected of trying to smuggle 7.6 tonnes of cocaine to Europe are escorted by police officers after their arrival to the police airport in Lima, September 4, 2014. Peruvian police seized a record 7.6 tons of cocaine in a quiet coastal town on August 26th, arresting seven Peruvians and two Mexicans, according to Peru’s Interior Ministry.

Image: Mexicans suspected of trying to smuggle 7.6 tonnes of cocaine to Europe are escorted by police officers after their arrival to the police airport in Lima

The pair, along with six Peruvians who were also arrested, is now being questioned in Lima. Peruvian police have also asked their Mexican counterparts for information about the alleged boss of the operation, Lee Rodriguez, known as “El Duro,” or “the tough one.”

Both companies were founded in 2011 with a total initial capital of around 60,000 soles (roughly $21,000) and are thought to have realized 30 shipments of coal to Europe since then.

At least some of those would have been without cocaine, as the traffickers sought to evade detection and make their venture appear legitimate.

But Soberon speculates that around 20 would have contained cocaine. Assuming they each involved similar amounts of drugs as the intercepted shipments, then, doing some back-of-the-envelope math, he calculates that the operation would have already sent cocaine with a street value of $2.8 billion to Europe.

“The scale of the seizure shows that they felt very safe storing their drugs there [in the warehouse],” he adds. “This just shows that in Peru the narcos are using every possible means to get their drugs to market, drug mules on commercial flights, down the Amazon river to Brazil, over the Bolivian border, light aircraft from the VRAE, and now this as well.”

Image: Anti-narcotics officers burn bags of the cocaine seized last week near Trujillo at a special operation police headquarters, in Lima

Anti-narcotics officers burn bags of the cocaine seized last week near Trujillo at a special operation police headquarters, in Lima September 3, 2014.

Peruvian police seized a record 7.6 tons of cocaine in a quiet coastal town on August 26th, arresting seven Peruvians and two Mexicans suspected of trying to smuggle the load to Europe as coal, according to Peru’s Interior Ministry.

Peru is now the world’s top cocaine producer. There are no official estimates of how much the country actually makes, but experts agree the figure would be in the low hundreds of tons each year.

Most of that, along with Bolivian cocaine, heads to Europe or Asia or is consumed in South America. The US market is supplied overwhelmingly by Colombia.

Mexico is making inroads in this region. Officials have detained dozens of Mexican cartel operatives over the last five years across South America, where they launder money, move drugs, or hide out from law enforcement back home.

This year alone, police have arrested alleged Mexican drug traffickers in Argentina, Ecuadorand Brazil, among other countries.

Mexican gangsters first stepped into the cocaine trade in the 1980s, when Colombian cartels hired them to move the white powder over the border into the United States to fuel its booming multibillion-dollar market.

The Colombians turned to the Mexicans after US drug agents backed by the military managed to squeeze the Caribbean route where cocaine was flown or shipped into Miami. The 1,954-mile US southern border proved much harder to police.

However, while the Mexicans began as paid couriers, they gradually ate more and more into the cocaine-trade pie, taking over distribution, sales and transport from the south.

By the early 2000s, the Mexicans were buying up vast quantities of cocaine from producers in Colombia — for some $2,000 per 1-kilogram brick — and owning the rest of the chain.

Now, US drug agents say, their expansion into Peru has been so extensive that the Mexicans even run their own cocaine laboratories here.

Yet Mexican narcos are still far from completely controlling Peru’s cocaine chain. The UN’s Mirella says most labs here are still operated by “local clans” in a decentralized system that limits the damage when law enforcement detects one.

This past week Peruvian newspaper La Republica reported that Brazilian gangsters were also running operations in the VRAE, the Spanish acronym for the Valley of the Apurimac and Ene Rivers, a lawless outpost on the lush slopes of the eastern Andes that now grows more coca than anywhere else on Earth.

Brazil is the world’s second largest cocaine market, after the US, with cheap crack and cocaine paste popular in the favelas (city slums), while more affluent Brazilians snort the refined powder in increasing quantities.

Citing a confidential police report, the paper named the leader of the gang as Osmar de Souza, a 27-year-old Brazilian with a long record of drug-running that includes escaping from jail in both Argentina and Paraguay. Officers were unavailable for comment to GlobalPost.

But despite Peruvian police setting a new national record for a cocaine seizure, some say law enforcement here still needs to up its game to confront the cartels.

Mirella praised the efforts to track and stop the large amounts of chemicals, such as kerosene and sulfuric acid, that are used to turn coca leaves into cocaine.

“Without them [the chemicals], you don’t have a finished product,” he said.

But he believes more could be done to stop money laundering.

“At the end of the day, it is the money laundering that is keeping this business alive.”

That, and the demand for cocaine in cities from Los Angeles to Paris and Tokyo.

50 Places In Europe You Need To Visit In Your Lifetime Vol. II

Cliffs of Moher Ireland

Europe is home to historic cities, world-famous museums, and phenomenal restaurants. But there are also gorgeous hidden beaches, phenomenal ski resorts, and stunning natural formations like canyons, waterfalls, and gorges.

We’ve come up with the ultimate bucket list of travel destinations in Europe.

From biking along the canals of Amsterdam to tasting Chianti in Italy’s Tuscany region, here are 25 things you need to do in Europe in your lifetime.

Stroll through fragrant lavender fields in Provence, France.

Stroll through fragrant lavender fields in Provence, France.

Marvel at the treasures and artifacts inside London’s British Museum, which is open to the public for free. (As is almost every other major museum in London.)

Marvel at the treasures and artifacts inside London's British Museum, which is open to the public for free. (As is almost every other major museum in London.)

Have a beer in the beautiful Market Square of Krakow, Poland.

Have a beer in the beautiful Market Square of Krakow, Poland.

Indulge with fresh gaufres chaudes (hot waffles) topped with strawberries, whipped cream, Nutella, and more in Belgium.

Indulge with fresh gaufres chaudes (hot waffles) topped with strawberries, whipped cream, Nutella, and more in Belgium.

Go canyoning in Interlaken, Switzerland: rappel, raft, and jump through waterfalls.

Go canyoning in Interlaken, Switzerland: rappel, raft, and jump through waterfalls.

Take a gondola ride through the winding canals of Venice, Italy.

Take a gondola ride through the winding canals of Venice, Italy.

Gaze at the Aurora Borealis from Lapland, in northern Finland.

Gaze at the Aurora Borealis from Lapland, in northern Finland.

Sample Paški sir, the famous artisanal sheep milk cheese made on the Croatian island of Pag.

Sample Paški sir, the famous artisanal sheep milk cheese made on the Croatian island of Pag.

Drive through the Scottish Highlands and admire the gorgeous hilly terrain.

Drive through the Scottish Highlands and admire the gorgeous hilly terrain.

Run with the bulls in Pamplona, Spain.

Run with the bulls in Pamplona, Spain.

Take a dip in a thermal bath in Budapest, Hungary.

Take a dip in a thermal bath in Budapest, Hungary.

Skip the lines at the Eiffel Tower, and take in the view of Paris from the top of the stairs at the Sacre-Couer in Montmartre.

Skip the lines at the Eiffel Tower, and take in the view of Paris from the top of the stairs at the Sacre-Couer in Montmartre.

Explore the Eden Project, a pair of giant biomes that hold thousands of plant species from around the world in Cornwall, England.

Explore the Eden Project, a pair of giant biomes that hold thousands of plant species from around the world in Cornwall, England.

Straddle two continents on a boat tour along the Bosphorus in Istanbul, Turkey.

Straddle two continents on a boat tour along the Bosphorus in Istanbul, Turkey.

Sample Italian Chianti in the vineyards of Tuscany.

Sample Italian Chianti in the vineyards of Tuscany.

Cheer on the home team at a football (soccer) match in the U.K.

Cheer on the home team at a football (soccer) match in the U.K.

Recount the tale of Dracula in Sighisoara, the Romanian town where real-life inspiration Vlad the Impaler was born.

Recount the tale of Dracula in Sighisoara, the Romanian town where real-life inspiration Vlad the Impaler was born.

Cruise Norway’s imposing fjords, created by eroding glaciers.

Cruise Norway's imposing fjords, created by eroding glaciers.

Try a restaurant that specializes in foraged food in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Try a restaurant that specializes in foraged food in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Watch the sun set at Stonehenge, in southern England.

Watch the sun set at Stonehenge, in southern England.

Find solace at the Rila Monastery, an Eastern Orthodox monastery in Bulgaria.

Find solace at the Rila Monastery, an Eastern Orthodox monastery in Bulgaria.

Scuba dive in the clear Mediterranean waters off the coast of Cyprus.

Scuba dive in the clear Mediterranean waters off the coast of Cyprus.

Admire the incredibly detailed facade of the Sagrada Família, a church in Barcelona, Spain, which was designed by famed architect Antoni Gaudí and has been under construction since 1882.

Admire the incredibly detailed facade of the Sagrada Família, a church in Barcelona, Spain, which was designed by famed architect Antoni Gaudí and has been under construction since 1882.

Savor a rich chocolatey Sachertorte in Vienna, Austria.

Savor a rich chocolatey Sachertorte in Vienna, Austria.

Admire Claude Monet’s enormous series of “Water Lilies” murals at the Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris, France.

Admire Claude Monet's enormous series of "Water Lilies" murals at the Musée de l'Orangerie in Paris, France.