Winter is here! It doesn’t matter that the leaves are still falling, or that it hasn’t snowed, it certainly feels like winter and that’s good enough for me.
For many, the winter season means planning a trip for when the weather gets warmer, but a trip in the winter months for studying history is actually rather useful.
Travelling to a European city between late October and Easter has some definite advantages over the same places in the summer months. Firstly, there are less regular tourists, which makes getting about and into places much easier. Busy cities are not built for people to walk around looking at buildings and listening to stories, but that is exactly what you want to do when visiting the historic sites of a city such as Berlin, Paris or London. In the summer months, groups of tourists everywhere can make walking tours difficult, but in the winter, when more people are inside, a walking tour can pass around a city easily.
Secondly, the shorter days don’t matter if you are visiting a museum. Some trips require being outside a lot, with a lot of light, but if you visit a city in the winter, you can walk about soaking up the atmosphere in the morning, then after lunch, head to a warm and interesting museum for the late afternoon slot. After all, it doesn’t matter that it’s dark outside, as everything inside the museum is just the same all year round!
Thirdly, some sites and histories work best when everyone is in the good mood that fine weather and summer can bring. However, timing the misery of the Russian revolution with a damp Russian autumn creates the impression of the period more clearly than visiting St Petersburg in the sun. Similarly, seeing The Reichstag Building or the East Side Gallery in a layer of frost certainly bring an emphasis to the Cold War (OK, so the storming of the Bastille was in July, but the horrors of the Reign of Terror were all year round, come rain, wind and shine).
Fourthly, it’s all about focus. Who wants to learn when the sun is shining and the world is beautiful?! A chill in the air keeps the mind focused and also helps justify the snacking that a visit to a foreign city demands – currywurst anyone?!
Finally, if you really want to bring a smile to everyone’s face, choose a midweek winter break in December in a city that has a Christmas/winter fair. I’ve been to Berlin at the start of December with a group, and for an evening activity we took everyone to a Christmas market. It being mid-week meant it was mainly locals there and not very busy, unlike at the weekends. It was safe and everyone got to try out their German – and the cultural delights of hot chocolate and gingerbread, of course!
Let’s face it, Paris, Berlin, Prague or Rome are undoubtedly fantastic in the summer; just don’t underestimate the delights of a bit of atmosphere in the winter.