On my press trip to the Emilia Romagna region, when I added a visit to the nearby city of Mantua in the next region, Lombardy, I had to arrange separate transportation from Emilia Romagna to Mantua, just across the regional border. The Emilia Romagna van dropped us off in a parking lot within view of Mantua! We switched from the E.R. van to the Mantua City Tourist Board van just to cross the border to Mantua. News Flash: Italy was united in 1861. The good news: Emilia Romagna and Mantua have so many great, seldom-visited works of art and architecture that it was worth the effort.
When foreigners come tour our beautiful Pacific Northwest, they usually include Portland, Seattle (and nearby) Vancouver, Canada. You’d think tourist boards from these three cities would work together. No. Regrettably, they feel as if they’re in competition. Tourist boards aren’t the only “separatists.” Most guidebooks written about a single country also stop at the border. Two of my favorite cities in Europe are a little more than an hour apart. According to their tourist boards, Munich and Salzburg might as well be on different planets. DK Eyewitness Munich pretends that nearby Salzburg, Austria doesn’t exist. And DK Eyewitness Austria avoids Munich.
The travel editor of National Geographic Books and I are writing a guidebook series that breaks through boundaries in more ways than one, using RailEurope and high-speed trains to break through more international borders on day trips. In my lecture series at New York’s 92nd Street Y, European Jewish Architecture and Architects, I’ve learned how arbitrary most borders are - especially in Central Europe. Ernst Wiesner offers a good 3-country example. Wiesner, a great prolific Jewish Functionalist architect in Brno (second city of the Czech Republic) was born in Malacky, Hungary and studied in Vienna. After the fall of the Iron Curtain 25 years ago, there’s no reason to restrict travel in Central Europe to just one country - especially with today’s nonstopping EU border crossings. And that’s exactly what the tourist boards of the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia are doing -- working together! Here’s hoping they start a new trend with many tourist boards.